Steerpike Steerpike

Theresa May and the 48 letters: a year of false alarms

Once again, rumours began to swirl around Westminster on Tuesday that there would – finally – be a confidence vote in Theresa May. News outlets and journalists on Twitter breathlessly announced that the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, had received the necessary 48 letters from MPs to call a confidence vote.

Unfortunately for them, all the speculation ended up being untrue. Despite frequent claims that a Tory revolt is underway, the numbers never quite seem to add up. Only Brady himself knows how many letters MPs have sent, and he confirmed later that the threshold had not been reached this time.

This led Mr S to think: haven’t politicians and pundits predicted Theresa May’s impending doom several times before? Well, if you feel like you’re suffering from a large case of déjà vu after the latest would-be leadership election, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Steerpike has compiled a list of the reports so far alleging the number is close to the magic 48. Mr S will leave readers to decide whether Westminster hacks are confused – or Brady can’t count:


‘Tory bosses fear that just a few more MPs need to turn against Theresa May in order to trigger a vote on her leadership, it has emerged.

A no-confidence vote in the Conservative leader is automatically triggered if backbench chief Sir Graham Brady receives 48 letters from his colleagues.’

26 January 2018, the Sun


‘Mrs May will not be able to unite her party behind any given version of Brexit. If she follows the advice of moderates such as Philip Hammond, she may face a leadership challenge from Eurosceptic rebels. However, as the former chancellor George Osborne has pointed out, there is no parliamentary majority for the radical form of Brexit.’

2 February 2018, the Financial Times


‘Some Tory MPs have said that Mrs May could face a leadership challenge if the party performs particularly badly.’

19 March 2018, Politics Home


‘The PM has been warned that a concession to keep Britain in the 28-member customs union will prompt a flood of no-confidence letters from Brexitbacking MPs, which would likely trigger a leadership challenge, The Times reported.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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