At least four Conservative MPs have told colleagues they have submitted letters of no confidence in Theresa May since Friday — and two of them are Remain-backers, BuzzFeed News understands.
The news comes as speculation once again mounted at Westminster that Tory MPs are close to reaching the threshold of 48 letters that would trigger a confidence vote in the prime minister. The number of letters is kept private by 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady until the threshold is met.
Two government sources told BuzzFeed News they think it is now an inevitability that the threshold will be reached at some point over the next few weeks, before May is able to strike a Brexit deal with the EU.
Two of the Tory MPs who told colleagues they have submitted letters in the last few days are Brexiteers. One said they had received pressure from their local Conservative association to write a letter. They had both previously said they would not vote for a deal based on the PM’s Chequers proposals.
But two MPs are Remainers. One told friends they think Chequers is “the worst of all worlds” and that they want a second referendum to allow the public to decide between a clean break from the EU or remaining as a member.
The other, BuzzFeed News understands, believes the Tory party brand is being permanently damaged by May’s leadership.
The revelation that both Leave and Remain MPs have submitted letters shows the concerns are not just about May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, MPs said.
One told BuzzFeed News: “For some of us this really isn’t all to do with Brexit. I’m worried about the state of the Conservative party under Theresa May and it is obvious she intends to go on and on — unless she is stopped.
They added: “Where are our domestic policies? What happened to compassionate conservatism? Since Theresa came to power what can we say she’s done that would encourage people to vote Tory? I can’t think of anything. She has no ideas. If it wasn’t for Corbyn she’d be out by now. It’s not good enough. She’s destroying the party I love.”
Members of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic MPs reported that the advice from the group’s leadership on submitting letters had changed in the last few days.
Last Tuesday, ERG MPs were surprised to be told by the group’s chair, Jacob Rees-Mogg, not to put letters in and to withdraw them if they had.
BuzzFeed News understands that message was not repeated at a meeting of the ERG yesterday. One MP present said: “The feeling has changed. At the end of last week, any faith left in the prime minister’s ability to get a good deal evaporated.”
Another senior member of the ERG said: “I told Jacob that I was going to put in a letter. He did not encourage me but he definitely did not try to persuade me otherwise either.”
Asked by BuzzFeed News if he was still advising MPs not to put in letters, Rees-Mogg did not directly address the question. “I think that the last thing the party needs is for the ERG to plot against the leader,” he said.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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