Theresa May vowed to fight for her political life Wednesday after members of her own party triggered a vote of no-confidence in her leadership over her handling of Brexit.
If she loses the vote, which will take place on Wednesday evening, she will be out as Conservative leader, and will likely outline when she will stand down as UK Prime Minister.
The starting gun was fired after 48 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters demanding a vote to the 1922 Committee, which represents rank-and-file Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
Appearing on the steps of Downing Street, May was in bullish mood, promising to fight the contest with “everything I’ve got.”
Graham Brady, the MP who chairs the committee, confirmed that the threshold for a confidence vote — equivalent to 15% of Conservative MPs — had been passed.
In a statement, Brady confirmed that the result of the vote would be made as soon as possible with ballots being counted immediately.
He told CNN that if May was to lose the vote, a replacement could be found quickly.
“I ran the process in 2016,” Brady said. “It took no more than 10 days — it might even be possible to conduct a process of that sort more quickly.
“If there are two candidates, and that is the expectation — there will be a postal ballot and that inevitably takes longer.”
He also explained the announcement was made early Wednesday to avoid unsettling the markets.
“We thought that when we were making a serious announcement that has important consequences, we thought that we ought to make the announcement before the markets open,” he added.
The vote could hardly have come at a worse time for May, who has been criss-crossing Europe to beg EU leaders for help passing her Brexit deal through the UK Parliament.
May was forced to postpone a vote on the deal on Monday when it became clear she was likely to go down to a humiliating defeat.
If May loses the vote, the Conservative Party must hold a leadership election. If she wins, however, party rules mean that she cannot face another vote in a year.
May is facing considerable pressure from the Euroskeptic wing of the party. In a statement published on Wednesday, Jacob Rees Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group and Steve Baker, his deputy, called on her to go.
“Theresa May’s plan would bring down the Government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it,” read the statement carried by the UK Press Association.
“Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.”
But in an act of defiance, May hit back at her detractors by insisting the election of a new party leader would “put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.”
She also warned that a leadership election would risk “handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in Parliament.”
“The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by the 29th of March, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it,” she said.
“And a leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation or the parliamentary arithmetic. Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just when we should be standing together to serve our country. None of that would be in the national interest.”
Rounding off her speech, she added: “I have devoted myself unsparingly to these tasks ever since I became Prime Minister and I stand ready to finish the job.”
Support for May
Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union before resigning immediately after the result, urged the party to back May in the leadership vote.
“I hope Conservative MPs will back the PM in the vote today. We need no distractions from seeking the best outcome with our neighbors, friends and partners in the EU,” he tweeted.
A number of government ministers came out in support of May just minutes after the vote of no confidence was announced.
“The PM has my full support. At this critical time we need to support and work with the PM to deliver on leaving the EU, & our domestic agenda — ambitious for improvements to people’s lives & to build on growth of wages & jobs,” tweeted Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary.
Chancellor Philip Hammond also defended May, tweeting that she had “worked hard in the National interest since the day she took office and will have my full support in the vote tonight.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove also offered his support to May on Twitter: “I am backing the Prime Minister 100% – and I urge every Conservative MP to do the same. She is battling hard for our country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU.”