The Prime Minister (pictured visiting a church in Maidenhead on Friday) mounted a last-ditch bid to win over her mutinous backbenchers after over 100 Tory MPs threatened to rebel in the crunch vote on her deal
Theresa May today warned her warring party to back her Brexit deal or risk handing the keys to No10 to Jeremy Corbyn and leaving the UK in the EU permanently.
The Prime Minister mounted a last-ditch bid to win over her mutinous backbenchers after over 100 Tory MPs threatened to rebel in the crunch vote on her deal.
But facing an overwhelming defeat on the deal, she is considering delaying the crunch vote so she can return to Brussels to squeeze more concessions out of the EU.
She is being urged to emulate Margaret Thatcher and have 'a handbag moment' and make changes to the controversial Irish backstop plan.
Ministers have pleaded with the PM to reschedule the vote warning her it is pointless to hurtle head on into what looks set to be a humiliating defeat.
Mrs May is expected to make a final decision tomorrow on whether she will push back Tuesday's vote.
And she faced a fresh blow last night when Tory MP Will Quince quit as a parliamentary aide to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, slamming the Brexit deal.
Staring down the barrel of defeat, Mrs May is under mounting pressure to delay the vote and use an EU summit in Brussels next Thursday to hammer the bloc for more concessions.
One senior cabinet minister told The Sunday Times: 'People in No 10 think she needs to have a 'handbag moment' where she says: 'Up with this I will not put.'
And with the Government in chaos over Brexit, several senior ministers are in talks with Labour over whether a second referendum or a Norway-style deal would break the deadlock.
The PM's de facto deputy David Lidington, and Justice Secretary, David Gauke, have been in talks with Labour MPs over the two possibilities.
While leading Tories are jockeying for position for a possible leadership contest, with Boris Johnson laying out his vision for the top job and Sajid Javid canvassing for support.
Under a barrage of attacks from all sides, the PM mounted a fresh fightback today by warning Eurosceptics that risk losing Brexit altogether unless they back her.
She used a powerful interview in today's Mail on Sunday to try to avert the rebellion by 'weaponising' the prospect of Mr Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.
Mrs May said Britain 'would truly be in uncharted waters' if the deal is voted down.
She said: 'It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit.
'We have a leader of the Opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a General Election, no matter what the cost to the country… I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take.'
Theresa May today warns her warring party that if they vote down her Brexit deal they risk handing the country to Jeremy Corbyn – and being stuck permanently in the EU
She told her MPs: 'If you want Brexit, make sure you get it, and that's about this deal.'
Ahead of one of the most momentous weeks in post-war British politics:
- Mrs May was considering making an emergency dash to Brussels to secure new legally binding assurances over the controversial backstop – as the EU hatched secret plans to delay Brexit by six weeks;
- Tory Brexit ringleader Jacob Rees-Mogg backed a Brexit/Remain 'unity' ticket of Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd if Mrs May falls;
- MPs claimed that Home Secretary Sajid Javid was openly canvassing support for a leadership bid, while former Brexit Secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab were 'jostling for position with each other';
- Leaked polling from Tory HQ revealed that 57 per cent of Conservative voters think MPs should vote for the deal, with just 27 per cent saying they should vote against;
- It was claimed that, if Mrs May was forced out after the vote on Tuesday, then the Commons would have to sit at Christmas for the first time since the 17th Century Cromwellian interregnum;
- Labour MPs piled pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to honour party policy on a second referendum;
- It was revealed Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was reduced to tears over the turmoil;
- Nigel Farage is poised to launch a new Leave party to exploit Conservative divisions and push for a harder Brexit.
Although there is a growing belief in Westminster that Mrs May could be forced to delay the vote, she last night insisted her Cabinet was united behind her. 'I think we all recognise that this is a good deal,' she said.
Tory MPs are in open revolt over her deal, and Mrs May is expected to face a fresh attempt to oust her as Tory leader is she loses the big vote by a massive margin.
Tory MP Will Quince quits as an aide in fury over Brexit plan
Colchester MP Will Quince resigned as Defence Secretary Parliamentary Private Secretary over Theresa May's Brexit deal
Theresa May has been struck by another resignation after the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson's aide quit over her proposed Brexit deal.
Colchester MP Will Quince urged the Prime Minister to return to Brussels and renegotiate the deal to remove the Northern Irish backstop.
Quince, 35, is the latest figure to resign over the Brexit deal.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Qunice said: 'I wanted to support this Withdrawal Agreement, and I still want to support it, but unless the backstop is addressed to include either an end date or a unilateral exit mechanism, I cannot support it and so am resigning from the Government as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.
'I implore the Prime Minister to go back to the European Union and find another way, to make this Withdrawal Agreement something we can all support.'
Currently over 100 Tory MPs and the 10 DUP MPs propping the Tories up in power have refused to back her.
If they stick to their guns then the PM is set for a catastrophic and humiliating defeat.
Her mutinous Tories are furious at her deal's Irish backstop plan, which would see the UK tied to the customs union and more single market checks have to be carried out in Northern Ireland.
They warn the UK cannot pull out of the backstop without the EU's permission - potentially keeping the UK 'locked' to Brussels against its will.
Mr Johnson launched a fresh broadside against the deal as he laid out his pitch for the Brexit negotiations in what will be seen as a thinly veiled leadership pitch.
Writing in The Sun, he said the UK should refuse to hand over half of the £39billion divorce bill until a free trade is done.
Mr Johnson has become the PM's fiercest critic since quitting as Foreign Secretary in fury at her Brexit plan.
He wrote: 'It is time now to show our EU friends that we mean business. This should be a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
'And, to show that we mean business, we must be able to walk away.
'This is a great country, capable of rising to immense challenges — and I believe the people of this country are fed up to the back teeth of being told by their Government that they are simply incapable of managing the logistical problems of Brexit.'
Amid mounting opposition to the deal, civil servants have war-gamed two versions of the UK holding another referendum.
The first is a straight choice between the PM's deal and remaining in the EU, and the second would be a leave, remain contest with a second question asking them if they prefer the existing deal or a no-deal departure on World Trade Organisation terms, The Sunday Times reported.
While Mrs May is facing overwhelming opposition from MPs, polling obtained by the Mail on Sunday found that Conservative voters in Tory-held seats want their MPs to vote for the deal by a majority of more than two to one.
This suggests that MPs who voted against the deal could be punished at the ballot box at the next Election.
If Mrs May loses an immediate no-confidence vote on Tuesday, Parliament could have to sit on Christmas Day because the Fixed Term Parliament Act sets a deadline of 14 calendar days for a new Government to be formed, meaning December 25 would be the last chance for any coalition to try to win a Commons majority.
It's believed that the last time the Commons sat on Christmas Day was in 1656.
If these are Theresa May's final days in Downing Street, she seems remarkably sanguine about it, drinking from a mug which says 'proud to be a Bloody Difficult Woman' and using a hole punch which read 'please do not remove from office'
Labour MPs are privately urging Mr Corbyn to table a no-confidence motion against Mrs May if she loses the vote on her deal in the hope that it leads to a second referendum.
Asked whether Labour would push for a no-confidence vote, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told The Mail on Sunday: 'We'll judge when we see what happens on Tuesday.'
Mr Rees-Mogg said dodging a vote on her Brexit deal would be as damaging to Mrs May as losing it.
He said: 'The humiliation of avoiding a vote is as much a reason for her departure as defeat. It is her policy which has failed and for which she is accountable.
'And it would be much better if she left of her own accord rather than face a no-confidence motion.'
Mrs May's allies argue that, if the deal crashes, it will not only lead to the end of her leadership but the suspension of Article 50, the triggering of an election likely to lead to a Labour-SNP coalition Government, then a second referendum to try to reverse Brexit.
Mrs May, who refuses to say whether she will resign if she loses the vote on her Brexit deal, rules out a second referendum while she is leader, telling this newspaper: 'We had a people's vote. Let's deliver on the first people's vote.'
The PM has been on a PR blitz to depserately try to drum up suport for her hugely controversial deal.
But while she has been trying to appeal to the nation, opposition to her deal is mounting in Parliament - where the crucial decision will be made.
We had a people's vote. Let's deliver on it and get this done
Exclusive interview with Theresa May by Glen Owen
If these are Theresa May's final days in Downing Street, she seems remarkably sanguine about it.
Despite intense pressure from all sections of her party to cancel Tuesday's momentous Commons vote – or risk a humiliating defeat which could sink her political career – the Prime Minister exudes a calm humour as she talks in her No 10 study.
Her allies say this is testament to her steely temperament and patriotic sense of duty; her detractors describe it as a stubborn refusal to change her mind in the face of overwhelming opposition.
As carol singers strike up in the street outside, Mrs May expresses the forlorn-sounding hope that she can bring the war with her party to a close in time to enjoy her traditional roast goose for Christmas.
Her determination finds an echo on her writing desk, which boasts a mug declaring that she is 'proud to be a bloody difficult woman' – and, more prosaically, a hole-punch which is labelled: 'Please do not remove from office.'
In her exclusive and wide-ranging Mail on Sunday interview, Mrs May:
- Warns Tory MPs planning to revolt over her deal that they would be risking the double whammy of Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street and the UK cancelling Brexit;
- Tells how she has received thousands of messages of personal support from ordinary voters;
- Reveals that she soothes herself after stressful days by wolfing down spoonfuls of peanut butter direct from the jar;
- Jokes that she can't have nightmares over her predicament because 'armed police' would storm her bedroom;
- Says her best Christmas presents from husband Philip are handbags; while he regards Mrs May herself as his perfect gift;
- Discloses that she relaxes by watching the BBC's Masterchef: The Professionals;
- Says her proudest achievement over her political career is the work she did on modern slavery.
With the number of Tory MPs opposed to Mrs May's Brexit deal now estimated to have reached triple figures, the Prime Minister tries to quell the rebellion by weaponising the threat of Mr Corbyn and his predominantly pro-EU party.
'I'm not somebody who is normally a doom- monger [but] I genuinely am concerned that we would see greater division and greater uncertainty,' said Mrs May.
'The Labour Party see this as a way of trying to engineer a General Election. They are not looking at the national interest.
'They are playing party politics for their own short-term political gain and frankly that would lead to long-term national pain.'
She tells her rebellious MPs: 'If you want Brexit, make sure you get it, and that's about this deal.
'When I say if this deal does not pass we would truly be in uncharted waters, I hope people understand this is what I genuinely believe and fear could happen. It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit or leaving the European Union with no deal.
'We have a leader of the Opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a General Election, no matter what the cost to the country. As someone who cares passionately about my country and my party, I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take'.
Although multiple sources say that a growing number of senior Government figures were urging Mrs May to delay the Commons vote until after another attempt to extract further concessions from Brussels, the Prime Minister was maintaining the line that her Cabinet was united behind the idea of holding the vote this week.
'I have obviously talked to my Cabinet colleagues as well as I talk to other colleagues. I think we all recognise that this is a good deal', she insisted.
Mrs May is privately furious that the Brexit 'ultras', including Jacob Ress-Mogg and Boris Johnson, are so determined to crash her deal that they will topple a line of dominos which could lead to a vote of no confidence, the end of Mrs May's leadership, the suspension of Article 50, a General Election ushering in a Labour-SNP Government and a second referendum to attempt to reverse Brexit. As one ally says: 'We would go to hell in a handcart'.
But while large sections of her Parliamentary party remain unconvinced by her deal and her determination to put it to a vote, Mrs May says she has been cheered by more than 3,000 personal messages of support from ordinary voters.
'I've had a lot of letters, a lot of emails, a lot of support from people,' she says. 'It really has been encouraging. The overwhelming message from people is: let's get this deal done and then we can focus on the future. People say, 'look, we just wish you the best because we really want to see Brexit and we want to get on with this.'
Mrs May – one of the most effective stonewallers in Westminster –deflects all questions about whether she will resign if she is defeated over the deal or go back to Brussels to demand more concessions.
But she is openly dismissive about moves by a cross-party group of MPs, led by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, to call a second referendum – and withering about her predecessor Tony Blair's call for one.
'His view is that we should go for another referendum,' she said. 'We had a people's vote, that's what frustrates me when people talk about this, the second referendum being a people's vote. We had a people's vote, let's deliver on the first people's vote.'
The prospect of another General Election, particularly after last year's fiasco, chills many Tory MPs, who argue that the party machine is not ready to fight a successful campaign, and that Mrs May is the wrong person to lead them into one. She isn't exactly enthused by the idea either: 'There isn't going to be a General Election. As far as I'm concerned, the next General Election is 2022. Jeremy Corbyn is trying to engineer an Election but the last thing this country needs is the instability and uncertainty that would produce'.
Proud to be a Bloody Difficult Woman... and determined to stay on
'Please do not remove from office' and 'Proud to be a Bloody Difficult Woman'
Mrs May was delighted when former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke called her a 'bloody difficult woman', and she celebrates the epithet on her mug. But will she last longer in her office than her hole punch?
Valiantly, Mrs May said she hoped the deal could be voted through by Christmas so she can enjoy that goose and 'a nice glass of red' chosen by Philip.
'I think most people want us to do this, to get it done and get it all wrapped up by Christmas and actually focus on the future,' she said.
How will she celebrate, assuming events allow it? 'We like to have a quiet Christmas. We'll have a couple of friends round on Christmas Day, and the churches in Maidenhead have a lunch for people who would otherwise be on their own and so I go up and have a glass of sherry with them. Then we go home and we have our dinner.'
The Mays will be sticking to their usual meal. 'It's always goose I'm afraid, yes. Most people always cook turkey, I always cook goose. With everything else that's going on it's tried and tested. I try to do a slightly different recipe every year. I saw one in a magazine the other day'.
Her devotion to Philip, who she married 38 years ago after meeting at Oxford, is obvious. The tight bond between the pair was forged in extremis when her father, an Oxfordshire vicar, died in a car accident a year after the wedding. Her mother died the following year and she does not have any siblings.
Mrs May praises Philip's Christmas present choices, saying he is particularly 'good at handbags; he does pick a good handbag'.
What is the best present she has got him? 'I think he would look me in the eye and say, 'You, darling!' '
Even Mrs May's fiercest critics admire her resilience in the face of what must be almost intolerable pressure, combined with official duties such as last weekend's 14,000-mile round-trip to the G20 summit in Argentina.
It was former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke who delighted Mrs May by describing her as 'a bloody difficult woman'.
But surely her husband must worry about the impact of the pressure on the diabetic, 62-year-old Prime Minister. 'He is like any supportive partner is,' she says. 'He's there and wants to help.'
She adds that she never takes out the strain on her staff. 'I am not the sort of person who naturally loses their temper,' she says, but confesses she does swear 'sometimes'.
Does she ever wake up with nightmares? 'If I woke up and went 'aaagh!' I'd probably have several armed police officers coming into the bedroom,' she replies.
The most unexpected moment of the interview comes when she reveals how she comforts herself after a gruelling day dealing with Jacob Rees-Mogg et al. 'One of my little indulgences, I have to confess, is peanut butter. Either on toast, or just a spoon. But I don't spend the entire day doing it.'
Food has always been a passion for Mrs May: the woman who has more than 150 cookbooks says she is currently enjoying Ottolenghi Simple, by Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-British chef.
So although her workload means that she only sees 'snatches' of television programmes, she has enjoyed the 'odd bit' of the new Masterchef: The Professionals series: 'They have been absolutely amazing, absolutely incredible.'
But she hasn't been to the cinema since watching Skyfall six years ago.
Mrs May's vicarage upbringing was imbued with the sense of public duty exemplified by her father's work in the parish. 'What my upbringing taught me was whatever you're doing, put your whole self into it and do your best.
'I am genuinely trying to do my best for the country. I suppose it is a sense of public service'.
Mrs May is keen not to strike a valedictory tone in the interview – but cites her work on modern slavery and establishing the National Crime Agency when Home Secretary as the greatest achievement of her political career.
And she laments the fact that Europe has suffocated the domestic agenda, with passions such as boosting technical education and her industrial strategy drowned out by the noise of Brexit.
But is she still the best person to lead the Conservative Party?
'Yes I am'.