Theresa May has signalled that she wants to draw a line under her time as prime minister by the end of July, fuelling expectations that Britain will soon have a new leader whatever happens to Brexit.
Downing Street said on Tuesday it was “imperative” that the withdrawal agreement bill, which is intended to implement Mrs May’s Brexit deal, is on the statute book before MPs break for their summer recess. Mrs May says she will quit once the exit legislation is approved.
But even if the Brexit stand-off persists, many Conservative MPs believe Mrs May will be forced out of Number 10 before the summer break, which normally starts in mid to late July.
Below are the key dates in a perilous summer for the prime minister.
Mrs May meets the executive of the Tory backbench 1922 committee for showdown talks. Senior Tories want the PM to set a timetable for her departure even if Brexit is unresolved. Mrs May has so far resisted, but if she does not set a departure date her MPs could take matters into their own hands.
Polling day for European Parliament elections. The Conservatives are heading for a disastrous set of results, with some opinion polls putting them as low as 10 per cent, behind the Brexit party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens. Mark Francois, a leading Eurosceptic Tory, said the party would be hit by “a tsunami”.
Results of the European elections are declared across the EU. By Monday afternoon, Conservative MPs will have digested the results and what they will mean for their own individual Westminster seats in a general election. Panic may ensue. “At that point the herd will stampede,” predicted one senior Tory MP. However, Mrs May has ensured that the House of Commons is in recess this week.
MPs return to Westminster after their Whitsun recess. Mrs May hopes the time away from parliament may have calmed nerves among MPs after the European elections. She might also buy some time because Donald Trump, US president, is in Britain from June 3 to 5. Tory MPs admit it will look unseemly to try to topple a prime minister in the middle of a state visit by Mr Trump.
Mrs May has promised to hold a crucial vote on her withdrawal agreement bill in the first week of June, regardless of whether she has struck a compromise Brexit deal with the Labour party. If she loses the vote, Mrs May and her EU withdrawal agreement might have reached the end of the road. If she postpones this moment of reckoning, Conservative MPs could move against her soon afterwards.
The parliamentary by-election in Peterborough (caused by the ousting of Labour MP Fiona Onasanya) is likely to be another hammer blow to Tory morale, coming after the Conservatives’ poor performance in the local elections in May and the expected drubbing in the European Parliament poll. Conservative MPs fear that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party could come from nowhere and win the Peterborough seat.
The National Conservative Convention, the forum of about 800 leading Conservative activists, will hold a non-binding vote of no confidence in the prime minister, the first time a Tory leader has faced such an action in the party’s history. Mrs May has spent her adult life campaigning with Conservative activists. A no-confidence vote from them would be a crushing personal blow.
The week immediately after the convention is seen by some of Mrs May’s critics as the best moment to strike — if the prime minister has not already voluntarily set a date for her departure.
The 1922 committee could change the party rules to allow MPs to hold a binding no-confidence vote in her. “That week will be her Waterloo,” said one Eurosceptic Tory MP.
The G20 summit in Osaka is seen by some Conservative MPs, and even some of Mrs May’s allies, as perhaps her swansong on the international stage. If she has not ratified her Brexit deal by this point, newly elected British MEPs will take up their seats in the new European Parliament on July 2: a humiliation for the prime minister.
Mrs May’s self-imposed deadline for passing the withdrawal agreement bill. If she hits this target, she has said she will announce her resignation and a Tory leadership contest will follow. Ratification of her deal will also allow the UK to leave the EU ahead of the currently scheduled Brexit date of October 31. But if the withdrawal agreement has still not been backed by parliament, she will have failed on her own terms. By this point Tory MPs are likely to have pulled the plug on her premiership.
Chancellor Philip Hammond said the contest to succeed Mrs May should be concluded as “quickly as possible”. But Tory chiefs reckon it will take eight to nine weeks to organise a contest, including hustings across the country. Conservative MPs choose a shortlist of two candidates, which is then put to the party’s membership.
The annual Conservative conference starts in Manchester. This is seen by many Tory MPs as the moment they crown the new prime minister. If Brexit remains unresolved, the new occupant of Number 10 will then embark on the daunting task of trying to succeed where Mrs May failed: taking Britain out of the EU.
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