Isabel Hardman

May to face 1922 Committee as rumours of rebel letters swirl

May to face 1922 Committee as rumours of rebel letters swirl
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Theresa May is to face her MPs at the 1922 Committee tomorrow, it has been confirmed. There had been calls for the Prime Minister to do so, after feverish speculation that Tory MPs were plotting to remove her because of her disappointing Brexit performance. She has clearly decided to take on those critics and face her party, rather than hide and hope that this is all going to go away.

One of the reasons MPs are increasingly dissatisfied with the Prime Minister is that she isn't offering any sense of progress towards a deal, and there will again be demands for her to show that she will win a concession from Brussels and secure a deal. It is unlikely that she will offer much more than her attempts at reassurances in the Commons yesterday, where she told MPs that 95 per cent of the negotiations were complete. This may infuriate the people who have been agitating against her, but will it be enough to calm wavering backbenchers for a little longer?

Reports have swirled Westminster today that the threshold of 48 letters calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister has either been reached or will be reached very shortly indeed. There have also been suggestions that Number 10 is planting decoy letters which can be removed as soon as that threshold is met, or that Graham Brady is somehow working to stop colleagues from sending letters in at all. That last is a rather serious accusation against the 1922 Committee Chair, and not one that any MP who has tried to submit a letter recognises.

Brady has told friends that he's not visiting Downing Street to tell the Prime Minister that there is to be a vote of no confidence 'today', and there is widespread scepticism in the party - even among those who want May gone - that the threshold is really close to being breached. One rebel commented to me that 'one of the problems with getting 48 letters is that 270 of the Conservative Parliamentary Party think they have a chance of being the next Prime Minister and so won't put one in as they don't want their hand seen on the knife'. A reasonably loyal senior Tory suggested that the time to remove May in the name of a better Brexit had passed anyway, as any leadership contest would be hotly contested even by those who thought it was coming at the wrong time, and would therefore have to take two months.

But there are nerves that the threshold will be reached accidentally because MPs have become what one senior Tory describes as 'dangerously overexcited'. That will then lead to a vote of no confidence that May's opponents haven't prepared the ground for, and that the Prime Minister will most likely win.

It is true that there is not yet a properly effective campaign to remove May. The European Research Group, for instance, is officially telling MPs not to send in letters. Anyone who wants a vote of no confidence also needs to be confident that they'll succeed in passing it and removing May. And that campaign naturally requires a lot more work than persuading just 48 MPs to send in letters.