Jacob Rees-Mogg today admitted the shambolic plot to oust Theresa May had gone a bit ‘Dad’s Army’ after it stalled amid Brexiteer splits.
The Eurosceptic conceded that too many MPs believed there should only be a Tory no-confidence ballot if the PM loses a Commons vote on the package thrashed out with the EU.
Asked at a press conference if his attempt to unseat the PM had been exposed as a ‘Dad’s Army’ operation, Mr Rees-Mogg compared himself to the hapless lead character.
‘I’ve always admired Captain Mainwaring,’ he joked.
Mr Rees-Mogg even suggested Mrs May was now ‘odds on’ to lead the party into the next election – although he also insisted the ‘strength of feeling’ was much stronger than the number of letters calling for challenge implied.
Former minister Steve Baker warned it might be the last chance to change leader. ‘I do think it’s now or never,’ he said.
Playing down the humiliation, Mr Rees-Mogg said ‘patience is a virtue and virtue is a grace’. He warned Mrs May her Brexit deal would not pass Parliament after she had ‘alienated’ the DUP.
His comments came as the number of confirmed Tory no-confidence letters stuck at 26 – well short of the 48 needed to trigger a full vote.
The failure to reach the key threshold, days after Mr Rees-Mogg declared an all-out attack on Mrs May’s Brexit deal, sparked bitter recriminations. One senior MP who has submitted a letter jibed: ‘Where are these great titans of Brexit? The answer is, they’ve bottled it.’
urosceptics including Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured right today) and David Davis are trying to get on the front foot again today by holding a press conference pushing for a looser Canada-style relationship with the EU
Asked if his attempt to unseat the PM had been exposed as a ‘Dad’s Army’ operation, Mr Rees-Mogg compared himself to the hapless lead character from Dad’s Army, Captain Mainwaring (pictured centre)
At the press conference alongside David Davis today, Mr Rees-Mogg insisted he was not mounting a coup but using the ‘democratic processes’ of the Tory party.
He said: ‘People will make their decision – do 47 want to come with or not. I may find they don’t or that they do but after the meaningful vote.
‘In politics you set out your stall, set out what you believe in and then you see if people agree with you.’
Answering a question from MailOnline about the chances of Mrs May leading the party into the next election, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘Odds on May leading us.
‘I think if the letters don’t go in and we don’t have the vote of confidence I think it would be more likely than not that the Prime Minister leads us into the next election.’
When he launched his putsch last week in a chaotic statement on the steps of Parliament, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘If nobody else follows, if you lead people and everybody hides in a cupboard that would not be a good position to be in.’
The pressure on the rebels intensified today as former foreign secretary Lord Hague warned they risked neutering Brexit and turning the UK into the ‘laughing stock of the world’.
Just one more MP went public yesterday, taking the running total to 26.
Who has sent letters of no confidence in May?
Letters of no confidence in Theresa May are confidential – but some of her strongest critics have gone public.
If 48 letters are sent a vote is called.
This is who has definitely sent a letter:
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset, Jacob.email@example.com
- Steve Baker, Wycombe, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sheryll Murray, South East Cornwall, email@example.com
- Anne-Marie Morris, Newton Abbott, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lee Rowley, North East Derbyshire, email@example.com
- Henry Smith, Crawley, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, email@example.com
- Peter Bone, Wellingborough, firstname.lastname@example.org
- James Duddridge, Rochford and Southend East, email@example.com
- Philip Davies, Shipley, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Andrea Jenkyns, Morley and Outwood, email@example.com
- Andrew Bridgen, North West Leicestershire, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nadine Dorries, Mid Bedfordshire, email@example.com
- Laurence Robertson, Tewkesbury, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Martin Vickers, Cleethorpes, email@example.com
- Ben Bradley, Mansfield, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Adam Holloway, Gravesham, email@example.com
- John Whittingdale, Maldon, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Maria Caulfield, Lewes, email@example.com
- Mark Francois, Rayleigh and Wickford, firstname.lastname@example.org
- David Jones, Clwyd West, email@example.com
- Marcus Fysh, Yeovil, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Chris Green, Bolton West, email@example.com
- Zac Goldsmith, Richmond Park, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bill Cash, Stone, email@example.com
- Philip Hollobone, Kettering, firstname.lastname@example.org
The plotters were also facing a growing backlash from Tory moderates who fear bringing down Mrs May could wreck Brexit or usher in a Corbyn government.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said those seeking to remove Mrs May risked ‘the most appalling chaos that could be immensely damaging to our national reputation, but also destabilising and potentially stop us getting through to the other side of Brexit’.
He said Mrs May was ‘by far the best-placed person’ to ensure the UK left Europe on friendly terms, adding: ‘Backing her is the right thing to do.’
And in a comment apparently aimed at plot leader Mr Rees-Mogg and fellow Old Etonian Boris Johnson, the former minister Nick Boles said: ‘Do my colleagues not understand how normal people react when they see a group of middle-aged men, led by two plummy-toned Old Etonians, trying to bully a conscientious and determined woman out of her job?’
In his column in the Telegraph today, Lord Hague urged MPs to hold back from writting no-confidence letters.
‘Credible, alternative plans to the Brexit deal put forward by the Prime Minister are in short supply,’ he wrote.
‘There are plenty of other wishes, hopes, beliefs and passionate speeches, but they are not a plan.
‘By ‘plan’, I mean something you can actually do, not just want.’
Lord Hague said forcing Mrs May out would mean a Tory leadership contest that would take six to seven weeks.
‘With Brexit meant to be only weeks away, and the crucial deadline of January 21 – after which Parliament debates other options – perhaps only days away, he or she would need to ask for more time and a deferral of the exit day, currently set for March 29,’ he added.
He said the EU would probably refuse unless the UK was ready to abandon Brexit ‘altogether’.
That would leave the new PM with ‘three terrible options’.
They could either pursue a ‘weaker’ Brexit, resign, or try to force through no-deal Brexit.
He warned that the first would lead to Britain being the ‘laughing stock of the world’, while the other choices would mean a general election as Tory Remainers would side with the Opposition to bring down the government in order to avert no deal Brexit.
‘In such an election, Jeremy Corbyn would find he could only keep his own party together, and seal victory, by promising a second referendum. The nation would then have to endure all the bitterness and trauma of that, but with Marxists in power at the same time,’ Lord Hague wrote.
Failure to hit the 48 target led to tensions within the European Research Group (ERG) behind the plot.
There was anger that a number of senior Brexiteers – including Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Priti Patel and Sir Bernard Jenkin – have not publicly backed the plot despite denouncing Mrs May’s deal.
Senior MPs hit back at the plotters, singling out former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who said last week the 48 names were in the bag.
At his press conference today, Mr Rees-Mogg (pictured alongside David Davis) insisted he was not mounting a coup but using the ‘democratic processes’ of the Tory party
A source said: ‘Even as a Tory Brexiteer who would like May gone, I take delight in seeing Steve Baker publicly humiliated like this.
‘Since his resignation, he has pranced about pretending to be a statesman.
‘He is a self-aggrandising joke and his colleagues view him as a laughing stock.’
One of the problems facing the group is the lack of an obvious successor to Mrs May outside the Cabinet.
Mr Johnson has made little secret of his ambitions – but Mr Davis, Dominic Raab are unlikely to clear the way for him.
Plans for five Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers to issue an ultimatum to Mrs May over her Brexit deal this week also fizzled out, amid divisions over tactics.
Trade Secretary Liam Fox penned an article in support of the PM, while Michael Gove also said he backed her, and Chris Grayling is thought to be on board.
Senior MPs hit back at the plotters, singling out former Brexit minister Steve Baker (pictured), who said last week the 48 names were in the bag
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt are still thought to be mulling their positions – but the threat seems to have receded.
The PM appeared to buy off some senior Brexiteers, including Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Paterson, last night by offering to look at their proposals on the Northern Ireland border.
Mr Rees-Mogg, the ERG’s chairman, and Mr Baker, the former chairman, published their letters of no confidence on Thursday and urged others to follow suit.
Mr Baker told ERG members on Friday the target had been hit, with another 12 letters in reserve. But he was later forced to backtrack.
Yesterday morning Simon Clarke, another prominent ERG member, declared the target was about to be reached.
He said: ‘I think the moment of truth is upon us.’
Former minister David Jones and backbencher Marcus Fysh were both said to have written letters.
However, they are refusing to confirm them publicly.
Other ERG members such as Sir Edward Leigh, Sir Desmond Swayne, Michael Fabricant and Jack Loprest say it is the wrong time to submit a letter.
How Brexiteers would get rid of Theresa May
Brexiteers have attempted a coup against Theresa May in fury at her draft deal with the EU – but they will have to navigate Tory rules to force her out.
The Prime Minister insisted she plans to ‘see this through’ to make clear to the rebels she will not quit voluntarily.
This is how the Tory Party rules work:
What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader? Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.
How is that triggered? A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 48 MPs.
Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are.
This possible delay could give Mrs May a ‘grace period’ where she knows a contest is imminent but not yet public knowledge.
How is a vote announced? There are few fixed rules but Sir Graham is likely to inform Downing Street or the Chief Whip and then make a public announcement.
Sir Graham is likely to check with the MPs who have sent him a letter before making an announcement in case any of them want to withdraw. This will happen secretly.
How will the vote happen? After it is announced, a vote will happen quickly, with Tory MPs invited to cast a secret ballot in a Commons committee room.
Voting will be open for one day and Sir Graham will announce the result at the end.
What needs to happen for Theresa May to win? Officially, Mrs May only needs to win a simple majority of Tory MPs – currently that is 158 MPs.
Politically, winning by one would be devastating. If more than 100 MPs vote against her, most observers think she would be finished.
What happens if she loses? Mrs May is sacked as Tory leader and Sir Graham will announce a leadership contest. She cannot stand in the contest.
She will probably stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected but have no political power or authority to do anything.
What happens next? In a Tory leadership contest, any MP can stand with a proposer and seconder.
Tory MPs vote several times a week on the candidates with the last place candidate being removed from the race at each ballot.
When there are only two candidates remaining, a run off is held among all Tory members in the country.
How long will it take? The first phase depends on how many candidates there are. A large field could mean a fortnight or more of regular ballots.
In the past, the second round has taken anywhere from four to 12 twelve weeks – but some think a vote of Tory members could be finished in just a week.