Brexit drama leaves Theresa May facing a leadership challenge. Here’s how it could play out
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s grip on the top job is looking tenuous after MPs signed letters calling for a no-confidence vote against her.
- 48 of the 315 Conservative MPs were needed to write a letter of no confidence to trigger a vote
- If Mrs May wins, she is safe for 12 months. If she loses, she must resign
- Challengers would be whittled down to two and wider Conservative Party members would then vote
There’s a much lower bar to trigger a spill motion in the United Kingdom compared to Australia, where 75 per cent of party members need to vote to replace a Labor prime minister, or two-thirds in the case of a Liberal PM.
Just 15 per cent of MPs in her Conservative Party needed to write letters to the chairman of the so-called 1922 Committee demanding a no-confidence vote.
The Conservatives have 315 MPs, so 48 were required to write letters.
The 1922 Committee is unique to the Conservative Party and only backbenchers are allowed to elect members to the 18-member executive, led by chairman Graham Brady.
It allows backbenchers to discuss their party outside of the decision-making of the frontbench.
On Wednesday morning (local time), Mr Brady confirmed the “threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded”.
How would a vote against May take place?
Now the threshold has been met, a no-confidence meeting among all Conservative MPs will be held tonight (tomorrow morning AEDT).
Mrs May would need a simple majority of the total votes in order to keep her job — 158 votes if everyone cast a ballot.
If Mrs May wins, she cannot be challenged again for 12 months.
What happens if May loses the no-confidence vote?
If she loses, she must resign as party leader and is barred from standing in the leadership election that follows.
But it’s expected she would stay on as caretaker prime minister for up to six weeks while a new leader is chosen.
“We are looking at the leadership of the party and clearly the Prime Minister remains until there is a successor,” Mr Brady told the BBC.
Leadership candidates will come forward and a secret vote will be held among Conservative MPs to whittle down the field.
If only one person puts themselves forward, they become leader with no need for a vote from members.
But if there are several candidates, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed and MPs will vote again, and so on, until only two candidates remain.
These two candidates are then put to a postal ballot of the wider Conservative Party membership. Participants need to have been party members for more than three months.
When David Cameron decided to step down as prime minister and Conservative leader after the EU referendum in 2016, five candidates came forward.
The field was narrowed to Mrs May and then-junior minister Andrea Leadsom, but she pulled out before members voted, leaving Mrs May to become leader unopposed.
So who could replace Mrs May if she falls?
The flamboyant former London mayor has made no secret of his leadership ambitions and is very popular with the general public, but has drawn the ire of other Tory MPs after his poor performance as foreign secretary and subsequent undermining of Mrs May after resigning from the post in July.
One of the faces of the Leave campaign, he considered running after David Cameron’s 2016 departure as prime minister. That may have been his best chance at the top job.
Another former cabinet minister, Mr Davis was Brexit secretary but resigned in the fallout from the Chequers agreement in July.
Mr Davis is another staunch Brexiteer, and like Mr Johnson, has been sniping from the sidelines, which could hurt his chances.
One to watch: Penny Mordaunt is popular with the public and is a committed Brexiteer (Reuters: Simon Dawson)
The International Trade Secretary is tipped as the next Cabinet minister to walk, but she is also a dark horse to become PM.
She is committed to Brexit and very popular with the public, and is seen as a bit of fresh air in the otherwise stale Conservative Party.
Mr Javid is a former banker who has enjoyed a steady rise within the Conservative ranks since first becoming an MP eight years ago.
He stepped into the powerful role of Home Secretary after the Windrush scandal claimed Amber Rudd and is one of the bookies’ favourites to replace Mrs May at Downing Street.
Others mooted for the top position include former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Food and Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a staunch May supporter.
Would a new leadership spill mean Brexit is delayed?
It seems very likely.
Justice Secretary David Gauke told BBC Radio 4’s Today program he would not expect a new leader to be in place until late January or February, which would delay the Brexit negotiations.
“If she loses tonight whoever is prime minister will have to delay Article 50,” he said.
“I cannot see how we can possibly leave on March 29.”
Mrs May made a similar argument when she addressed the media, saying a change of leadership would be bad for the UK and its efforts to leave the European Union.
She said a new Conservative Party leader would not have time to renegotiate the Brexit agreement with the European Union, and that a Conservative Party leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation with Brussels.