Pressure is intensifying on Theresa May to resign after Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit the Cabinet over the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan.
Mrs Leadsom resigned with a “heavy heart”, saying she no longer believes the Government’s approach will deliver on the referendum result to leave the European Union.
The PM, writing in reply, disagreed with the ex-minister’s assessment, but said she was sorry to lose someone of Mrs Leadsom’s “passion, drive and sincerity”.
“I do not agree with you that the deal which we have negotiated with the European Union means that the United Kingdom will not become a sovereign country,” Mrs May said.
She went on to say she agreed a second referendum would be divisive, but said the Government was not proposing to hold one.
Mrs Leadsom acknowledged her resignation came on the eve of the European elections, but said she felt she could not announce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in Thursday’s Business Statement containing “new elements that I fundamentally oppose”.
“I fully respect the integrity, resolution and determination that you have shown during your time as Prime Minister,” she wrote in a letter to the PM.
“No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this Government and our party.”
Listing her reasons for resigning, Mrs Leadsom said she did not believe that the UK will be “truly sovereign” through the deal proposed, and said a second referendum would be “dangerously divisive”.
She added that there had been “such a breakdown of government processes” that recent Brexit-related legislative proposals have not been “properly scrutinised or approved by Cabinet members”.
And she said: “The tolerance to those in Cabinet who have advocated policies contrary to the Government’s position has led to a complete breakdown of collective responsibility.”
Mrs Leadsom was one of a number of Brexit-supporting colleagues in the so-called Pizza Club who were absent for the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
In a dramatic night in Westminster, her resignation came as pressure mounted on Mrs May to quit as the backlash over her last-ditch effort to get a Brexit deal through heightened.
The Prime Minister will meet Sir Graham Brady, the representative of Tory backbench MPs, on Friday for a meeting which could seal her fate.
She has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a crunch vote on her Brexit deal, widely expected on June 7.
That deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Sir Graham, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, the day after polling day for the European elections, which are expected to be disastrous for the Conservatives.
Sir Graham told reporters: “I will be meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday following her campaigning in the European elections tomorrow and following that meeting I will be consulting with the 1922 executive.”
He said the executive discussed “all sorts of things” in the meeting.
The 1922 Committee’s executive had been expected to consider a rule change to allow another attempt to force Mrs May out.
Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Mrs May would be safe from another confidence motion until December.
In a sign of unrest at the highest levels of the Tory Party, a series of Cabinet ministers asked for meetings with Mrs May to raise their concerns about the WAB which would put the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan into law.
Downing Street sources said it was possible that the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, but there was no confirmation that an audience would be granted for other ministers with reservations about the plan.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum, after Mrs May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell also has particular concerns because he fears the prospect of another referendum could be “exploited” by the SNP to call for a fresh independence vote.