Closed Brexit hardliners fail to oust Theresa May — as it happened

Brexit

A live blog from FT.com


Theresa May’s premiership could be in its final hours after rebel MPs reached the threshold to trigger a vote of no confidence in her as leader of the Conservative party and prime minister. The ballot will take place this evening. We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates throughout the day.


A Eurosceptic coup

The confidence vote comes after Mrs May struck a deal with the European Union for leaving the bloc that proved unpopular with opposition parties and Eurosceptics within the Conservative party.

Mrs May is expected to fight for her job.

But she is the target of an attempted coup by Eurosceptic MPs, who want to seize control of the final stages of Brexit and are expected to select their own candidate to replace Mrs May.

George Parker, Henry Mance and Laura Hughes report the story in more detail here


Pound at 20-month low
Sterling remains under pressure, having fallen sharply over the previous two sessions. The pound was trading below $1.25 before news of the no confidence vote broke, amid speculation that one was imminent.


Here it is, the letter from Sir Graham Brady – chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers – confirming a no confidence vote has been called.


Cabinet rallies round the PM
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, home secretary Sajid Javid and secretary of state for work and pensions Amber Rudd have all tweeted they will support Mrs May.

But all three are likely leadership contenders themselves, according to the FT’s Westminster team.

Mr Hunt says:

I am backing @theresa_may tonight. Being PM most difficult job imaginable right now and the last thing the country needs is a damaging and long leadership contest. Brexit was never going to be easy but she is the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU on March 29.

Mr Javid tweets:

The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong. PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March.

And Ms Rudd says:

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.


Falling pound boosts some UK stocks

The weaker pound helped London’s FTSE 100 rise 0.4 per cent in opening trade, outrunning a gain of 0.2 per cent for the Europe-wide Stoxx 600. Sterling’s decline makes UK exports more competitively priced, and flatters revenue earned abroad when repatriated into the pound. Rolls Royce topped the leaderboard, with its shares up almost 4 per cent. British American Tobacco rose 1.6 per cent.

Losses for stocks more dependent on the domestic UK economy were hit by the deepening uncertainty. J Sainsbury, the supermarket chain, fell almost 4 per cent. Barratt Development, the housebuilder, fell 1.4 per cent. Royal Bank of Scotland was down 1 per cent.


Gauke: Article 50 extension needed if May loses

David Gauke, justice secretary, said that if Mrs May lost and a Tory leadership contest ensued, Britain would have to apply to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit beyond March 2019.

He said it was unlikely a new prime minister could be in place before the end of January, adding: “The risk of this ending up in a chaotic way would increase substantially.”

He added that changing leader would be “a desperately bad mistake”.


More support from cabinet colleagues

Chancellor Philip Hammond:

The Prime Minister has worked hard in the National interest since the day she took office and will have my full support in the vote tonight. Her deal means we leave the EU on time, whist protecting our jobs and our businesses.

Michael Gove, environment secretary:

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.

Penny Mordaunt, international development secretary:

The Prime Minister has my full support, not least because she has always done what she firmly believes is in the national interest. Our country needs us all to fight for a good deal and prepare for a no deal senario. All eyes and hands should be on that task.


Christmas present for Corbyn?

The fact that the Conservative party is now holding a leadership contest so soon before the March 29 deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU (with or without a deal) could provide Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with a boost of political capital.

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard points out on Twitter that he:

Never expected the Tory party to hand Jeremy Corbyn such a generous Christmas present.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party was under pressure as recently as last night to force a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister.

That was awkward for Mr Corbyn because, according to our Westminster team, he had feared that triggering a no-confidence vote could within weeks force Labour into the politically fraught position of backing a second referendum.

Now he gets to earn political capital from the fact the Conservatives will be choosing a new leader just before the March 29 deadline when the UK is meant to be leaving the EU, with or without a deal.

Read more on the difficult choice Mr Corbyn was facing (but now is not) in this article by Jim and his Westminster colleagues Laura Hughes and Henry Mance.


“Mrs May has one strong card to play”

The decision to move quickly is not just about the need to get this done, writes the FT’s political commentator Robert Shrimsley. Mrs May’s allies will calculate that the longer the lead-in, the worse her prospects. She will not be keen to give Tory MPs time to think and be lobbied on this.

In general the view of MPs has been that while there may be enough Tories to force the confidence vote but not enough to bring her down. They need 48 to force the vote and 158 to oust her. But once the contest is a fact things move fast and momentum shifts. No-one can be confident of the outcome.

Mrs May has one strong card to play, namely that this is an act of staggering self-indulgence at a key moment in the nation’s history. The issue is how much appetite they have for what might follow and the up to six weeks of uncertainty which would follow as the party picks a new leader, unless the rules are changed to accelerate the contest.

But even her supporters have little enthusiasm about the idea of her continuing. Many likely leadership contenders are already tweeting their support but they will also be drawing up their campaign plans. Some of those publicly pledging support may take a different view in the privacy of the vote.

Logically the vote ought to be about what kind of Brexit deal (or no deal) the party wants but two other factors could be decisive. The first is that Tory rules mean if she wins this vote she cannot be challenged for a year. That will worry Tories who fear it will lead her to press on with her deal and also that she could lead them into an election if one follows soon.

The other key question for Tory MPs will be fears that the DUP will collapse their parliamentary pact with the government if she wins. The Democratic Unionists have said in the past they would not continue to support her if the withdrawal agreement is voted through. A clear steer today that keeping Mrs May would make an election far more likely will terrify Conservatives.


Waiting for May

The podium is up outside No.10 Downing Street, as we wait for the prime minister to speak…


May: “I will contest this with everything I’ve got”

Mrs May has no plans to go quietly.

She is saying that a change in leadership would put the country’s future at risk, and could hand control of Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs. The new leader would also not have time to negotiate a withdrawal agreement by March 29, she argues. She adds that “this could even stop Brexit …when people want us to get on with it”.

Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart would only create more division, Mrs May continues. She adds “none of that will be in the national interest.”

Concluding her speech, she says “I stand ready to finish the job”.

Her key points:
– there isn’t enough time left to renegotiate
– a leadership battle would result in Article 50 being extended or withdrawn
– new leader faces the same fundamental choices (and parliamentary arithmetic
– contest would tear the Conservative party apart
– only Labour party would benefit.


How did we get here?
So how did we get to this point? For a useful recap of the history of Brexit negotiations since the 2016 vote, and a great explanation of the Irish “backstop” that has outraged Eurosceptics and Northern Irish unionists, read this by our Whitehall editor James Blitz and political editor George Parker.


How a Conservative leadership competition works

In this article, our Whitehall editor James Blitz outlines the process for choosing a new leader of the Conservative Party – the person who would replace Theresa May if she does not survive tonight’s vote.

He explains:

If Mrs May loses, she must resign and cannot stand in the wider leadership election that follows. However, she would be almost certain to remain prime minister until a new party leader was chosen.

After each round, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed

The final two candidates then go head-to-head in a postal ballot.

In 2005, the last time the contest was decided by party activists, the leadership election process lasted three months. But in the case of a leadership challenge against Mrs May, it is unlikely the ballot of the wider membership would be allowed to take so long.


Parliamentary arithmetic: good or bad for May?

Mrs May pointed out in her address that any new leader would face the same challenges in getting legislation through a deeply divided House of Commons. So why bother booting her out now?

As Robert Shrimsley points out, the argument cuts both ways: “She does not have the numbers in parliament for her deal, so Tory MPs will struggle to see how keeping her in place breaks the logjam.”


What does this mean for sterling?

The pound hit its highest level for the session during Mrs May’s remarks, reports Michael Hunter, taking it up 0.5 per cent for the day to $1.2540.

On June 23 2016, however, the pound traded at around $1.48.

Here are some lines from Lee Hardman, currency economist at MUFG, on the near-term future for sterling:

The [confidence vote] while not entirely unexpected delivers another negative blow for the pound and will raise Brexit uncertainty to another level.

Brace for higher pound volatility ahead. PM May is clearly in a very vulnerable position.

We believe there is a high probability that she will be defeated in a vote of no confidence.

The fact that a leadership challenge has now been called signals that her opponents have confidence that PM May can now be toppled.

PM May will now need the backing of at least 158 Conservative MPs to see off the leadership challenge although it could still prove difficult for her to go on if she wins only narrowly.

If she hangs on to power, another leadership challenge can’t be called for another year.

It would give her more breathing room to continue negotiating with the EU.


Bookies back May

If you believe in bookmakers, then Theresa May looks set to win tonight’s vote. Here are the latest odds, courtesy of William Hill.

May wins – 2/7
May loses – 5/2


The UK economy: place your bets

Adam Samson, the head of our fastFT breaking news service, points out that the cost of insuring against the possibility of the UK’s credit rating being marked down is rising.

Put simply, this means more traders now believe that the UK’s perceived strength among the institutions that lend the country money is set to weaken.

The price of five-year UK credit default swaps, which are financial instruments that can be used to speculate on a borrower’s creditworthiness, are now on track on track to close at the highest level since that reached in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum.


Tory factions battle it out… on Twitter

Europe has been tearing the Conservative party apart for years. Today, the conflict is again out in the open, with various factions putting their views on Twitter.

Nick Boles, an ally of Michael Gove and advocate of the so-called “Norway-option”, has had a pop at the Eurosceptic European Research Group, the force driving the no confidence vote:

The ERG have spent the last month demanding that Theresa May change the terms of the backstop. She is now trying to secure the changes they want, and yet they decide to pull the rug out from under her feet. They will never be satisfied.

Meanwhile ERG member Bernard Jenkin has turned to the annals of history for his inspiration, citing Winston Churchill’s elevation during World War 2.

The UK changed Prime Minister in May 1940 – in the middle of a monstrously greater national crisis than this. If it has to be done, it has to be done.


Could May win the battle, but lose the war?

Even if Theresa May wins, will she lose the support of her parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist party? Their Brexit spokesman isn’t threatening to pull the plug immediately, but is sticking to the line that Mrs May’s Brexit deal is unacceptable.

This from the DUP’s Sammy Wilson:

Our Confidence and Supply Agreement is with the Conservative & Unionist Party. The current Brexit policy is totally unacceptable to us and the @HouseofCommons. It is entirely a matter for Conservative MPs to decide who their leader is… but the policy must change!

Ending the DUP’s agreement with the Tories would leave May presiding over a minority government, and likely facing a general election.


PMQs – make or break

Today’s Cabinet meeting has been cancelled. But prime minister’s questions has not. As the FT’s Robert Shrimsley points out, this could be the key event in determining the outcome of tonight’s vote.

Today’s PMQs really could be make or break for May which is a problem because it’s never been her strongpoint. While a barnstorming performance might help save her, a lacklustre effort or a defeat by Corbyn will persuade waverers that they are better off taking a risk.

Quite a moment for the Labour leader then. If he bests her and she loses tonight all the criticism of recent weeks will melt away and he will be heralded as the man who finished her off in parliament.


Who could replace Theresa May?

The FT’s Whitehall editor James Blitz has produced a round-up of the likely strong contenders for the Conservative leadership.

Here they are, along with their stance on Brexit:

Leave campaign frontman Boris Johnson (hard-Brexiter)

Home secretary Sajid Javid (voted remain but now a Eurosceptic)

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab (Brexiter)

Backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (hard-Brexiter)

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt (passionate Remainer turned Brexiter)
Environment secretary Michael Gove (Brexiter)

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd (Remain)

Health secretary Matt Hancock (backed Remain but also supported Mrs May’s Brexit plan from within cabinet).


Rees-Mogg calls for May resignation

Backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the Brexit-supporting European Research Group, says Theresa May should resign

https://twitter.com/Jacob_Rees_Mogg/status/1072784374163218432


Business reacts with dismay

The British Chamber of Commerce has put out a statement on the no confidence vote. It is not kind to those calling for a new leader.

At one of the most pivotal moments for the UK economy in decades, it is unacceptable that Westminster politicians have chosen to focus on themselves, rather than on the needs of the country.

The utter dismay amongst businesses watching events in Westminster cannot be exaggerated. Our firms are worried, investors around the world are baffled and disappointed, and markets are showing serious strain as this political saga goes on and on.

History will not be kind to those who prioritise political advantage over people’s livelihoods.


New leader = general election?

Rupert Harrison, former chief of staff to George Osborne, makes the point that replacing May could quite quickly lead to a general election. Writing on Twitter he explains that to win a leadership race, candidates would probably have to advocate a no deal Brexit. But parliament would quickly intervene.

A new leader could well = ‘managed no deal’ as official govt policy, which could = govt falling, election and second referendum. Quite a risk. Surely most conservative MPs will think better the devil you know


Vote May, get Norway?

Nick Boles, who we mentioned earlier, is trying to make the case that backing May now could help move parliament towards the so-called “Norway option” of remaining in the European Economic Area, or EEA. Some Labour MPs have expressed support for this policy in the past, but perhaps that ship has sailed as clamour for a second referendum gathers pace.

If Theresa May wins the confidence vote tonight it will be because moderate, pragmatic, mainstream MPs voted for her. She should then seek a majority from moderate, pragmatic, mainstream MPs from ALL parties to get a Norway Plus Brexit deal through


Cameron weighs in

Whether this will help or hinder her case, it’s hard to say. But David Cameron, the accidental architect of Brexit, has offered May his support.


Brexiters pursue high risk strategy

The FT’s political commentator Seb Payne breaks down the parliamentary maths – and Mrs May’s chances:

The threshold to remove her as party leader (and prime minister) is high: 158 Conservative MPs must vote No to force her out. But rebels in the party are aware that there is another, smaller number to hit that will make it impossible for her to stagger on. If, say, more than 100 Tories vote against their leader, it is likely to become nigh impossible for her to go on. As with the fall of Margaret Thatcher almost 30 years ago, Mrs May does not have to lose a leadership vote to lose out. Given that more than 110 MPs have stated they cannot vote for Mrs May’s Brexit proposals, a significant vote against her appears likely.

For Seb’s conclusions click here.


PS, tonight is also the night of the Conservative Christmas party

Impeccable timing.


City analysts back May to win

JPMorgan analyst Malcolm Barr says that it is “likely that around 200 of the 315 Conservative MPs will express confidence in May” but also adds that the “hope of those who have called for this vote is less that they will secure a majority expression of no-confidence among MPs, but more that the margin of May’s victory will be small enough to convince her that she should choose to resign”.

Still, he sees that outcome as unlikely.

Nomura says that markets are assigning a probability of 65%-75% that Theresa May wins the vote tonight – and in the less likely event she loses or steps down, assigning the highest probabilities to Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid winning the contest.


So can May survive?

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard writes:

In mid-November the European Research Group was the subject of scorn after the Eurosceptic body led by Jacob Rees-Mogg failed to get the 48 letters from Tory MPs needed to precipitate a leadership contest.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who had held an impromptu press huddle outside the St Stephen’s entrance to Parliament, stood accused of hubris.

But now a deadly serious leadership challenge is underway and Theresa May is fighting for her political life.

When Mrs May became Tory leader in 2016 her support was always wide but shallow. Many Conservative MPs thought she lacked charisma and empathy, but they believed she was a safe pair of hands. She had been a lukewarm Remain supporter, placing her roughly in the middle of the pro-EU/anti-EU spectrum.

It also helped that various rivals including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom dropped by the wayside, leaving her as the sole candidate by the end.

The last two years have taken their toll on her support in Parliament, however. She has alienated various factions including the ERG – which has up to 80 members – as well as the most hard-core Remainers such as Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve.

Calculating her chances of survival on Wednesday night is difficult, because there are still many Tory MPs who dread the idea of a no-deal Brexit, as advocated by some of their anti-EU colleagues. They may see keeping Mrs May as the only way to prevent economic carnage.

Yet MPs tend to be an ambitious bunch. For all the cabinet ministers lining up to back the prime minister – including Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt – many would rather like the top job for themselves.

You are allowed to be sceptical. After all, this is a secret ballot, and no one will ever know how anyone voted.


More from the Tory civil war on Twitter

The simmering tensions between the ERG and the bulk of the Tory party have broken out into the open today. The latest line comes from defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who has responded directly to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s call for a new leader:

And JRM … it’s not you. You are fuelling blue on blue. A disloyal & divisive characteristic disruptive to both Gov & Party- never rewarded by country we seek to represent. Set your stall – and accept gracefully if you don’t get your way. You are part of a team.


New Brexit deal planned

Dominic Raab and David Davis, the UK’s two former Brexit secretaries, are launching a campaign for a “Better Deal” for Brexit alongside the DUP leader Arlene Foster (pictured), according to the FT’s Laura Hughes.

They are proposing a new 10-year, “extendable backstop to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol”. They claim this would maintain the territorial integrity of the UK and allow the UK to “regain control over its tariffs and regulations”.

On tonight’s vote, Mr Davis says he will cast his vote in the “national interest”. He says Theresa May is “my prime minister still.” So before he reveals how he will vote, he says, he will give her the “courtesy” of listening to her speech at the 1922 committee later today.

As Mr Davis puts it:

I’ll cast my vote this evening in the national interest and what I judge to be the national interest.

That means we must have a reset of negotiations, and a reset that protects the integrity.


How loyal are the May loyalists?

More from the FT’s political commentator, Robert Shrimsley:

Portcullis House is awash with Tory MPs gossiping and Theresa May’s lieutenants fanning out to shore up her vote.

Talking to Conservative MPs I’ve yet to find one who thinks she is going to lose but many think there will be up to 100 votes against her.

An interesting question raised by one MP is what the four or five most loyal aides to the most plausible cabinet contenders do: “They are all proclaiming their loyalty on Twitter but if they send their adjutants out to vote against her that’s around 20 extra votes in the other column.”


Mid-morning summary

The fastFT team has put together a summary of the state of play in British politics and markets this morning ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions at 12.30.


FTSE 100 rises

The leading index of blue-chip shares is not suffering from today’s political turmoil, markets reporter Michael Hunter writes. A quirk of the FTSE is that many of its constituents earn their revenues abroad, meaning their P&Ls are flattered by foreign currencies being translated back into the weakened pound.

The FTSE 100 was up 1.1 per cent, in line with a wider rally across European stock markets. The more UK-focused FTSE 250 was up 0.7 per cent.

The move in the 250 was not downward, according to Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Laith Khalaf, as “there is [now] some measure of Brexit fatigue in place,” political turmoil is largely priced in and “the share prices of companies plugged into the UK economy were already under pressure.”

The pound reclaimed the $1.25 mark after Theresa May’s pledge to fight to remain in office. After a sharp fall in late trade on Tuesday — when speculation about the move against her by backbenchers grew — sterling hit a low of $1.2475, before bouncing up to $1.2535, up 0.4 per cent for Wednesday’s session.
Investors resisted moving into the relative safety of UK government debt — while the latest twists in Westminster’s political drama continued to unwind. The yield on benchmark 10-year UK paper ticked up 2.3bp to 1.212 per cent.


The MPs who sought to oust Theresa May

Our political correspondent Henry Mance has detailed which MPs sought to displace Mrs May by writing letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee.

They include well-known rebels such as hard-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith and former foreign affairs select committee chair Crispin Blunt. Read more here


Business leaders ‘tearing their hair out’

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors (pictured), says that the last thing businesses needed today was even more uncertainty – “and yet politics has managed to deliver on that once again”.

Many business leaders, along with the rest of the country, will be tearing their hair out at the state of Westminster politics at the moment. We are edging closer and closer to no-deal as a result of constant can-kicking and internal domestic political strife.


Juncker ‘intensifies’ EU leader talk

Europe has been so far silent on the Tory party vote tonight but the FT’s Jim Brunsden in Brussels reports that the spokesman for European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker this morning said that he had listened “attentively” to Ms May’s concerns at their meeting in Brussels yesterday.

President Juncker has intensified “his contacts with leaders” ahead of tomorrow’s EU summit, the spokesman added.


How tonight’s vote will work

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard writes:

Theresa May should know by 9pm on Wednesday evening whether she has lost the confidence of Conservative MPs, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee has confirmed.

Graham Brady, chair of the committee, told journalists at a packed briefing in a turret in the House of Commons that the prime minister would address backbench MPs at 5pm.

Subsequently voting will take place in committee room 14 in the Commons between 6pm and 8pm.

The secret ballot will involve about about 315 Tory MPs writing down whether or not they have confidence in the prime minister and putting their papers into a metal box.


May found out about confidence vote at 930pm last night

More from Jim Pickard from the Sir Graham Brady briefing:

Sir Graham said he had told Mrs May at 9.30pm on Tuesday evening that he had received 48 letters of no confidence, enough to trigger tonight’s ballot. She had been out of the country visiting European leaders earlier in the day.

He said the threshold was crossed earlier on Tuesday, but the matter was complicated by some MPs withdrawing their letters as others arrived.


Don’t forget the Conservative moderates

Heidi Allen, a moderate Tory backbencher, told the BBC that she would give up the Tory whip if either Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg become party leader, Jim Pickard writes.

Although Ms Allen has said this before, it is a reminder of the challenges facing Mrs May’s successor if she is toppled tonight: there are up to 50 Tory MPs who would vote against any attempt to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal with Brussels.


More than 110 MPs claim support for May

The FT’s data team is counting public Tory MP support on Twitter — so far they have found 118 public statements backing Mrs May. But to recap, Tory MPs can say what they like in public and vote differently in the secret ballot this evening.


PMQs up soon

The embattled Prime Minister is about take questions from the House. She has arrived in the chamber to enthusiastic cheers from her supporters.


PMQs: and we’re off


Spousal support

Theresa May’s husband Philip is in the gallery, sitting alongside some of her staffers in a show of moral support.


Corbyn goes on Brexit deal


Corbyn asks what progress May has made this week on her deal.

May says she has listened to complaints about the deal in the Commons, but says Corbyn “couldn’t care less” what she progress she makes. “He’s been clear whatever comes back from Brussels, he’s going to vote against it.”

She adds he wants to damage the economy.

He follows up by asking whether the vote on her deal with happen in the next seven, as she has not made any progress with the EU.

She doesn’t say when the vote will be. Just that a vote has already taken place (the referendum).

He calls the response “totally unacceptable”, and calls her behaviour “contemptuous”.


Corbyn asks May to rule out no deal

Mr Corbyn continues that when the prime minister made her speech in 2017, setting out her negotiating objectives, she promised to provide certainty wherever she could.

“Does the current situation look or feel like certainty?” he asks in a tone of incredulity. He also asks if the PM can “categorically rule out the option of no deal?”

Mrs May says yes, and that no deal can be prevented by “agreeing a deal”.

Here is a summary of that 2017 speech, given by Mrs May at Lancaster House, from the parliament website:


Corbyn again demands a vote

Corbyn and May are now just talking past each other.

May accuses Labour of wanting to cancel Brexit. Corbyn demands to know why the government won’t bring the deal to a vote.

“The time for dithering and delay by this government is over”, says Corbyn. “There can be no more running away. Put it before parliament and let’s have the vote.”

He adds that the Tory leadership shenanigans mean nothing to the British public.

A bouyant May accuses the Labour leader of making repeated u-turns, and says he “couldn’t care less about Brexit” and just wants to bring down the government. The biggest risk to the UK economy, she adds, is a Corbyn government.

The questions now move on to other MPs, the first one on preventing child suicide.


Calls for support, and for a people’s vote

Tory MP Mark Pawsy says business wants clarity, and calls on colleagues to support the prime minister and her EU deal.

May says its important to push ahead or risk no Brexit or a no deal Brexit.

The problem for May is that a lot of MPs quite like the sound of the other options.

Labour MP Ellie Reeves calls for a second referendum. May obviously disagrees.


The first resignation call

The first call during PMQs for Mrs May to resign comes from Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party.

He mocks the “strong and stable” moniker Mrs May has applied to her leadership and claims the Tory party is “in chaos”.

He is also angry that the meaningful vote on the withdrawal deal that Mrs May agreed with Brussels has been deferred – a key event that led to tonight’s no-confidence ballot.

Mrs May responds firmly that the reason no date has been announced for the meaningful vote is that she is seeking new concessions on the issue of the Irish backstop (an insurance policy against recreating a hard border across the island of Ireland). It is largely disagreements over the Irish border that have prevented MPs backing the current withdrawal deal.

“That is what we are discussing and continuing to negotiate,” Mrs May says.

“The date of the deferred vote will be announced in due course.”

Mrs May adds she is pursuing additional talks on the backstop “because I listen”.


No deal or no Brexit?

Asks a Labour MP.

May simply says it is important to deliver on Brexit.


Kenneth Clarke weighs in

The Tory grandee asks if there is anything more “unhelpful, irrelevant, or irresponsible” at this point of national crisis than a Tory leadership race?

May, unsurprisingly, agrees. Says a new leader would have to either extend or rescind Article 50, thereby delaying or cancelling Brexit.


The peculiarity of PMQs

While about half the questions are about Brexit and Mrs May’s premiership, there are also many that are not. It’s a strange sight – we’ve had questions on child suicide prevention, funds to help the high street, and even the provision of a new business text book.


Brexit and the economy

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield, says the economy is stalling, business investment is falling, and “we have the grotesque spectacle of Tory MPs putting party interest before the public interest”.

Mrs May, argues Ms Creagh, should “finally rule out no deal, let this place vote down her deal, and put it back to the public in a people’s vote.”

But the prime minister is resolute.

“The way to ensure no deal is to agree a deal,” she says. She also points to more flattering economic statistics, saying: “employment is at a record high, wages are growing [and] we’ve had 23 consecutive quarters of growth, the longest run in the G7.”


Calls for unity

One Tory MP asks Mrs May if it’s time for the Conservative party benches to unite due to the “threat” posed by Labour. May agrees that indeed it is.

Reminder: the Tories will vote on whether to depose their prime minister at 6pm.


Irish relations

Labour MP Jim McMahon calls on the prime minister to condemn any suggestion that Britain should withhold food from Ireland as a negotiating strategy as Priti Patel (picture below, right, with fellow Brexiter Boris Johnson), a former Tory cabinet minister and hardline Brexiter, did recently.

May says she is happy to do so.


A price worth paying for Brexit?

A Labour MP asks whether the costs of Brexit make it worthwhile, and mentions the recent fall in the pound.

May responds by citing the additional funding recently earmarked for the NHS.


How to break the deadlock?

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, asks what the prime minister plans to do to break the deadlock in parliament.

May says that MPs voted for the referendum, and that it is “the duty” of the house to deliver on that vote.

A Tory MP calls for a renegotiation of the deal. May says that’s what she’s been doing this week.


‘We have the best deal’

Liberal democrat leader Vincent Cable asks the prime minister, rhetorically we assume, whether it is preferable for her to face a no-confidence vote from members of her own party or from opposition parties?

Mrs May remains on message to the end, saying the most important thing is that parliament has a “duty” to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum with a deal that protects jobs. “And that’s the deal we’ve negotiated.”


And we’re done

Speaker calls the house to order. Prime ministers questions is finished.


Ireland still hopeful

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, said it was still possible for the UK parliament to back Theresa May’s withdrawal treaty after the UK premier scrapped her planned visit to Dublin to fight the confidence motion in her leadership, reports the FT’s Arthur Beesley.

Avoiding comment on the ructions in the Conservative party, Mr Varadkar said he will speak on Wednesday with Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission to see what assurances could be offered on the border “backstop” that it is at the heart of the backlash against Mrs May.

The next step is to secure ratification by Westminster and the European parliament – and I believe that is still possible and that is what we’re working on now


Here’s a summary of what happened at PMQs from our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard – Mrs May insisted she was fighting for a better deal and sought to rally her MPs ahead of the confidence vote.


Theresa May to offer to step down before next election

The FT’s political editor George Parker reports that Theresa May is expected to tell Tory MPs she will stand down as Tory leader before the next election – a move intended to rally the support of prospective leadership rivals.

“This vote tonight isn’t about who leads the party into the next election,” Mrs May’s spokesman said. “It’s about whether it makes sense to change leader at this stage in Brexit negotiations.”

Her spokesman declined to say if Mrs May had a departure date in mind. “She has said she will serve as long as the party wants her to,” he said.


Sky’s Beth Rigby is reporting some comments from the chancellor Philip Hammond, in which he says that “this isn’t the time to be talking about changing leader”. The public “would not forgive us if we changed leaders in the middle of the race”, Beth quotes him as saying. Today’s vote will “flush out the extremists who are trying to advance a particular agenda which would really not be in the interests of the British people or the British economy”.


Tory MPs’ public statements of support for May over 50%

The FT has been totting up the number of Conservative MPs who have expressed support publicity for the prime minister and we have got to 159, which equates to 50% of the parliamentary party plus 1.

Any such arithmetic should be treated with caution of course because confidence vote is a secret ballot so no-one will ever know what any individual decides unless they go public afterwards.


Sterling touches session highs

Sterling touched its highest level of the session as the prime minister took questions from MPs a little earlier, reports the FT’s Michael Hunter. It was up 0.8 per cent to $1.2580. That left it down 1.2 per cent from where it started trading on Monday.


German chancellor Angela Merkel said today that there was “still time” for an orderly Brexit. Mrs Merkel told a session of the German parliament that “we have little time left, but we do still have enough time”, according to reporting by Reuters. “I can only say to German citizens that we are working hard to make sure we can get an orderly Brexit.”


EU 27 will listen to May and prepare for no deal

The FT’s Michael Peel in Brussels has got hold of the invitation letter that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has sent to the other 27 leaders of the EU member states to the Brexit summit tomorrow. Below is an excerpt:

Given the seriousness of the situation in the UK, let me start with Brexit. The intention is that we will listen to the UK Prime Minister’s assessment, and later, we will meet at 27 to discuss the matter and adopt relevant conclusions. As time is running out, we will also discuss the state of preparations for a no-deal scenario.


Davidson backs May

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has spoken out in support of Mrs May in characteristically colourful terms:

https://twitter.com/RuthDavidsonMSP/status/1072814962043744256

For those who don’t have access to Twitter, it says:

The Prime Minister has cojones of steel and is putting in a punishing degree of effort to deliver for our country. She has my full support.


Long way to go until good news

Jordan Rochester at Nomura has just put a note out warning that “a lot still needs to happen before the good scenarios play out”.

He wrote: “Even if she wins: 1) we don’t know how this gets through parliament 2) We are yet to know the date of the vote 3) we could see a vote of confidence in the government by Labour 3) the DUP pull their support for the government to help with that.”

Here’s a chart from the Nomura note on leadership odds:


Labour defers no confidence vote

Labour’s spokesman has insisted that the party will wait to launch a vote of no confidence in Theresa May “when it stands the greatest chance of success”, reports the FT’s Jim Pickard.

Speaking to reporters after prime minister’s questions, the spokesman insisted that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, was not running scared. “The very opposite,” he said. “We are confident that we have an alternative plan which would command the confidence of the majority of the support in the House of Commons.”

Labour has come under pressure from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats and Greens for holding back from launching a confidence motion in the Commons.

The party argues that it wants to wait until Mrs May’s Brexit agreement is defeated in the House of commons: the relevant vote was postponed on Monday amid expectations that the government would lose by a huge margin.

Many Labour MPs believe that Mr Corbyn does not want to go down that route because if the motion failed – which it probably would – the party would end up backing a second referendum. The majority of Labour members want a rerun of the 2016 EU vote but the leadership believes it could enrage millions of Leave-voting members in the party’s post-industrial heartlands.


A ‘reckless’ strategy

A reminder of our commentator Sebastian Payne’s view of the situation – a leadership challenge against Mrs May is a reckless, high-risk strategy, he writes. “If we are witnessing the end of the May era, her last act should be to request an extension of Article 50 — to allow her successor time to decide his or her position on Brexit. That, at least, would be in the national interest.”


Senior EU diplomat: Is there a government in London?

The FT’s Rochelle Toplensky has been talking to a senior EU diplomat about the chaos in Westminster, who offers a sobering assessment for warring MPs over in the UK:

“Beckett, Kafka (and) Havel would be not the heroes of this story because it’s getting so messy and absurd that even the funny elements of this are actually tragic,” said a senior EU diplomat.

On the “$1bn question” of the Irish backstop – the diplomat knew of no draft text and said “there is still nobody who would dare to think about the first sentence of such a text so it is not realistic to think it is going to be (available) before Christmas”.

“We will have a very difficult time to find suitable wording to accommodate the British needs…without undermining everything what the Irish are going to subscribe to… one thing inevitably leads to erasing the other.”

He added that nobody knows what to expect at Thursday’s summit, except that it will be long. “Nobody knows anything, especially Theresa May doesn’t know what her life will be like after 5 or 6 pm (today),” he said. However, he hopes for a clearer picture by the end of the day “because it is so important to know who is coming to Brussels to negotiate with us the day after today.”

The diplomat ended with a parting shot – “Is there a government in London actually?”


Outlook for sterling

A May win tonight would see sterling enjoy a temporary rally above the $1.265-1.27 area, according to analysts at ING. A loss would “hit the pound hard”, triggering a 3 per cent decline from current levels to the lows last seen in 2016, they said.

Here’s a chart of sterling’s recent moves from our Fast FT team:

Sterling has rallied after more than half of the Parliamentary Conservative Party publicly backed Mrs May to continue in office.


The ‘bastards’ are back

The situation which the Conservative Party finds itself in is reminiscent of its position in the early- to mid-1990s, when then-prime minister John Major faced down a Eurosceptic rebellion over the Maastricht Treaty. Behind the scenes in an accidentally-recorded outburst shortly after he won a House of Commons vote of confidence in his government, Major dubbed the rebels “bastards”. At the time he had a majority of 18, and faced 23 rebellion-minded MPs.

In the recording, which took place as Major chatted with a political journalist, he said: “The real problem is one of a tiny majority. Don’t overlook that. I could have all these clever, decisive things which people wanted me to do but I would have split the Conservative party into smithereens. And you would have said I had acted like a ham-fisted leader.”

He went on: “Where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. We don’t want another three more of the bastards out there.”

Some of the key backbench figures in that internecine warfare are also involved in the current political wrangling, including John Redwood (pictured below, left) who resigned from Major’s (right) cabinet in 1995 to launch a leadership challenge against him.


Public statements of support for May now at 165 Tory MPs

On paper at least, or however the MPs have expressed their support, the prime minister will win the confidence vote later with public expressions of support among the Tory parliamentary party now at 165, according to FT research. Under the rules of the rather arcane sounding 1922 Committee – the grouping of backbench Conservative MPs that oversees the party’s leadership election – Theresa May needs a simple majority of the 315 members currently eligible to vote. Of course, no one believes a close vote would allow the prime minister to survive, but if she can keep the dissenters down to about 100 MPs she should be able to continue.


Tea-room networking by rebels: vote May lose the DUP

Our commentator Sebastian Payne reports:

Eurosceptics are assiduously working the corridors of Westminster to build up votes against Theresa May. Senior members of the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting MPs acknowledge that they will struggle to unseat the prime minister with a clear “no” vote in tonight’s confidence vote. Instead they are hoping to build up enough opposition that Mrs May’s authority is shot and it becomes impossible for her to continue.

The message Brexit-supporting MPs are touting is “vote May, lose the DUP”. The 10 Democratic Unionist party MPs from Northern Ireland are critical to keeping the Conservatives in power. Brexiters are arguing that if Mrs May wins the vote, the DUP will pull the plug on their confidence and supply agreement. Their argument is that this risks a general election in the near future — naturally led by Mrs May — that most think will be won by Jeremy Corbyn.

Brexiters are targeting the “blancmange” of the parliamentary Conservative party: those MPs who have little love for Mrs May and her Brexit deal, but do not want to see more chaos. They believe that this bloc represents the key for tonight’s vote. If these MPs ultimately back the prime minister then she is safe. But if these people conclude that something has to give, then she could be in trouble.


Bad news for Corbyn

Some bad news for Jeremy Corbyn from pollsters YouGov today: he is still less popular than the prime minister, despite the ongoing Conservative Party wrangling. Both are in heavily negative territory, though, admittedly.


What next for Brexit?

The FT’s Alex Barker has outlined the main possible scenarios following the Conservative party’s leadership vote, and what the implications may be for Brexit.

For the most likely options on the UK’s exit from Europe, click here


Public sympathy for May

YouGov have also published some interesting polling on the general public’s attitudes towards Mrs May and the withdrawal deal. Although 38 per cent of people thought she should be removed and replaced with a new Conservative prime minister (45 per cent said she should remain leader), most people don’t think any successor could do a better job, and there’s also a fair amount of sympathy out there for her.


Gove: May will win ‘handsomely’

Our political correspondent Laura Hughes reports that Michael Gove is confident the prime minister will win the vote. She writes:

Michael Gove, the Eurosceptic UK environment minister, has claimed Theresa May will win tonight’s vote “handsomely”.

“I think the prime minister will win tonight and she will win handsomely. I regret that a leadership contest has been triggered, but I respect my colleagues,” he said. “I know that everyone’s made their decision after careful thought.”

Mr Gove added: “The one thing I would ask every Conservative MP to do is to ponder before they cast their vote this evening: If we don’t support the prime minister, then we risk derailing or diluting Brexit. If we do support the prime minister we can honour the mandate that the British people have given us.”


Brexit boost for Varadkar

Our Ireland correspondent Arthur Beesley reports from Dublin:

Leo Varadkar received a big political boost after the opposition party that keeps his minority Irish government in power offered not to force an election for a year because of the turmoil over Brexit.

The Irish premier’s confidence-and-supply deal with Fianna Fáil was due to lapse this month but its leader Mícheál Martin told parliament on Wednesday that he will continue to support the government as the risk of a no-deal Brexit has risen.

Saying an election next year would not be in Ireland’s national interest, his party will now extend a guarantee to Mr Varadkar’s administration to operate throughout 2019. “This will allow the introduction of any emergency legislation and budgets, as well as the full end of year budget and associated legislation,” he said. “This will in turn allow the holding of an election early in the following year.”

Mr Martin indicated several weeks ago that he would not prompt an election before the terms of the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU next March were settled. “If the government shows good faith this extension can be completed and ratified quickly.”


Gazebo-watch

Our political commentator Sebastian Payne estimates that the level of broadcasting interest in parliamentary events is at an all-time high, judging by the amount of activity on College Green. For those who aren’t familiar with the geography of Westminster, College Green lies just outside the gates of the Palace of Westminster and is often used by broadcast media to film interviews and rolling live news. On a normal day a passer-by might note two or three broadcasting positions set up on the green. Today, according to Seb, there are 27.

https://twitter.com/SebastianEPayne/status/1072831841835671553

For those without access to Twitter, he said:

Political crisis update: We have reached an unheard 27 gazebos on College Green. There is hardly any space left for more media with decent views. Power sockets apparently starting to run out. #gazebowatch

Here’s a picture he took a little earlier of the scene on the green:


Key Brexiter rejects “extremist” label

Sir Bernard Jenkin, one of the longest-standing Brexiters in the Tory party, has told the BBC he is “reluctantly with a heavy heart going to vote for a new Conservative leader”. He said he only put his letter in to call for a confidence vote yesterday.

“I’m very sorry it’s come to this,” he says, adding that he had tried to work with May bringing a number of his fellow members of the Eurosceptic Tory European Research Group into see her in Downing Street.

He says the deal May ended up negotiating with the EU has so “little support in the House of Commons and the DUP are so hostile to it that she is really losing her authority to govern.”

He insists that the UK should go back to “what the EU was offering: a Canada plus plus plus trade agreement . . .” The problem with that deal is that it would create a hard border on the island of Ireland but Sir Bernard insisted that could be resolved “in a different way . . that could certainly be done.”

Sir Bernard insisted the problem with Brexit was not in the Tory party but in the Commons, where a majority of MPs supported Remain during the referendum in 2016. He added that even if May were to win the vote tonight she does not have a majority among MPs supporting her deal and warns the next step would be a no confidence vote in the government.

Responding to earlier comments by chancellor Philip Hammond that the vote tonight would be a chance to “flush out the extremists”, Sir Bernard replied:

It is odd isn’t it that 52% of the country voted leave and we put in our manifesto that we leave the customs unions, leave single market and take control of our laws. And now we are faced with an agreement that doesn’t deliver these things and we are called the extremists. It’s a sort of Orwellian world we are living isn’t it. I thought that once we’d won the referendum we would be accepted as the mainstream, the problem we’ve got is even though some 400 constituencies voted leave so many of their members of parliament who say they represent them are not actually supporting leave they are trying to frustrate the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and that has got very big consequences for democracy.


Voting numbers update

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg reports that the MP Andrew Griffiths has had the Tory whip restored, which means that he is eligible to vote this evening. That means Mrs May now needs a minimum of 159 votes to win.

Mr Griffiths, who represents Burton, was suspended from the Conservative Party this summer after the publication of sexual misconduct allegations. He opposed Brexit in the run-up to the referendum and served as a whip after Theresa May became prime minister.


More on voting numbers

The other suspended Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke, has also been reinstated, according to ITV political editor Robert Peston. He reckons that Mr Griffiths will support the prime minister and Mr Elphicke will vote against her.

Mr Elphicke, the MP for Dover, was suspended from the Conservative Party in November 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct which he denies.

Mrs May now needs 159 votes to win this evening.


Markets to Westminster: ‘What leadership vote?’

Here is our capital markets editor Katie Martin with an update on the pound:

Sterling has certainly shaken off the dark cloud that hovered over it last night and earlier on Wednesday when news of the confidence vote in prime minister Theresa May first broke.

Now, rightly or wrongly, the market appears to believe Mrs May will make it through, as around 165 Tory MPs have pledged support. She needs 159 to survive in her position. The pound is up by 1.37 per cent today, reaching $1.2650.

That, BNP Paribas said, is probably as far as it can climb for now. “We said earlier that if she wins, there’s probably a 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent rally for sterling in that. We’re already at the upper end of that, so it’s mostly priced in,” said Parisha Saimbi, G10 currencies and rates analyst at the bank in London.

Bigger picture, the result probably makes little difference in any case, said Ms Saimbi – a view echoed by her UK economist colleague Paul Hollingsworth. Her political survival “would not change the EU’s position,” he noted, but could stretch out the process of Parliament voting on a deal.

So the markets will go back to the wait-and-see mode we have grown so accustomed to over the past two years.


Voting confusion

There’s some confusion over whether the MP Charlie Elphicke will be eligible to vote tonight or not. Some Westminster journalists have reported that the Conservative Party has restored the whip (he was suspended from the party in November 2017) but our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard has been speaking to a friend of Mr Elphicke’s who said that the MP for Dover has had no news either way.

It does not make much of a difference in the numbers either way – now that the Tories’ other suspended MP Andrew Griffiths has been reinstated, Mrs May needs 159 votes to win and that would not change if Mr Elphicke was reinstated too.


Brexit hardliners should ‘move on’

Therese Coffey, a junior environment minister, has been interviewed on Sky News. She said that she expects the prime minister to win the vote and her message to the Brexit hardliners in the European Research Group is that they should accept the result of the vote and get on with delivering Brexit constructively.

She said: “They’re supposed to be democrats. They ask us to respect the referendum result. They’ve had their chance to dislodge the prime minister, I don’t think that will happen and we need to move on.”


May loyalists express confidence

The FT’s Jim Pickard reports that loyalist Tory MPs have been milling outside the Commons chamber in the late afternoon and sounding increasingly confident about Mrs May’s chances of political survival ahead of the vote.

“They have made a complete error of judgement, they will be defeated, they are going to get fewer than 100 votes,” said one loyal minister. “I think she’s now in a really strong position.” The voters would realise that the ERG were simply acting in a “destructive” manner and not in the national interest, he added.

Another minister said of Boris Johnson, the Eurosceptic former foreign secretary: “Boris is dead. If he isn’t he bloody well should be.”

Alistair Burt, a minister in the Foreign Office, described the Brexit-supporting ERG as “a party within a party”.

“They have never disguised their aims, I have no criticism of them for being transparent in what they seek to do, but I think they are wrong,” he said. “The degree of jeopardy they are putting the party in, as well as the country, should make everyone cause them to pause and hold back.”

“There is a time to discuss leadership but it isn’t now,” said Mr Burt. “Who knows when that is, but certainly not in the run-up to March 29.”


MPs prepare for May address

MPs are gathering ahead of Theresa May’s address of the 1922 committee at 5pm, with many now saying that Mrs May would be in trouble if the vote reached triple figures.

Several said that the prime minister seemed to be safe, judging by colleagues’ comments, only to point out that MPs did not have a great track record for honesty: “I know colleagues are liars so I have given up trying to predict the result,” said one.

Some Eurosceptics were not optimistic about defenestrating the prime minister: “I would describe the mood as nervous right now,” said one senior rebel MP.

So-called ‘Blue on Blue’ internal Tory party fights have also become increasingly bitter. One minister said that the Tory party was heading for a historic battle between moderates and right-wingers. “It is a question of who emerges holding the flag, we should have got this over and done with 30 years ago,” he said.

Another minister said: “I’m bloody angry, I think I’ve got more in common with people (Labour MPs) like Hilary Benn and Liz Kendall than the Brexit lot, I’m sorry I’m in the same party as them.”


Backstop assurances ‘not enough’

From our political correspondent Laura Hughes:

DUP officials say Arlene Foster had a “useful” meeting with Theresa May this afternoon. They say the prime minister “got the message” that her assurances on the backstop are “not enough” and that the party needs to see changes in the withdrawal agreement.


How many MPs can vote?

There was some confusion earlier about whether MP Charlie Elphicke would be eligible to vote tonight. It would seem he is now, bringing the total number of MPs voting to 317, meaning technically needs 159 to survive.

https://twitter.com/CharlieElphicke/status/1072887664720969728

For those who don’t have access to Twitter, he said:

Important for my constituents to know that, 13 months after having it withdrawn, I have been given back the Conservative Whip. I remain as confident as I always have been of clearing my name and will continue to work as hard for Dover & Deal as I always have done.


The view from the corridor

Our political commentator Sebastian Payne is in the committee corridor in the Palace of Westminster, outside the room where the vote is going to take place. Mrs May is due to address MPs very shortly. He reports that there are “at least 250 Tory MPs, journalists and peers circling room 14″ and “it’s getting very hot and sticky”. One MP, asked how he felt when entering the room, said: “Happy – it’s Christmas!”. Another confident May supporter said she will win easily.


Tally update

The FT’s number-crunching data team estimate that 176 Conservative MPs have made public statements in support of the prime minister so far; other tallies suggest it could be as many as 184.


May is addressing her party’s MPs

The prime minister has started her address her party’s MPs, who are due to vote in less than an hour on whether she should continue as party leader and therefore prime minister, writes the FT’s Jim Pickard.

She entered to the banging of desks (one of the many quaint British parliamentary traditions) by MPs who had gathered in their hundreds in the endless corridor of the House of Commons before shuffling into committee room 14 just before 5 to hear Theresa May’s address.

The prime minister was expected to issue a plea to her colleagues to back her in tonight’s make-or-break confidence vote – and to offer the prospect of some further compromises on her Brexit deal with Brussels.

Among the Tory MPs heading into the meeting were Philip Hammond (below), accompanied by his special advisers, and a trio of moderate Remain-supporting cabinet ministers: Greg Clark, Damian Hinds and David Gauke – as well as numerous high-profile rebels.

Meanwhile a big crowd of journalists stood in the hot, sticky corridor waiting to listen for any clues from inside the meeting.


Committee room 14

The room in which this evening’s drama will unfold is located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, on the first floor, with long windows overlooking the River Thames. It is one of the sumptuously decorated rooms for public hearings with intricate Pugin-designed wallpaper. It lies just two rooms away from the spot where, in 1906, 29 newly-elected MPs met to form the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The committee corridor itself, where journalists, politicians and researchers have clustered, is a long and fairly narrow passageway. The media are very limited in what images and video they can record on the Parliamentary estate, hence the lack of visual images to what is going on.


It’s getting loud

Seb Payne reports that the volume is rising in the committee room. He is hearing “ferocious banging, loud cheers and sounds of ‘yeeeeah’”. One MP inside the room has told him that the prime minister is receiving a good reception; Boris Johnson looks ‘glum’.” He added that the party whips were banging the committee room doors “so hard I’m worried about the hinges”.

https://twitter.com/SebastianEPayne/status/1072904973560745985

For those who don’t have access to Twitter, it says:

‘One Eurosceptic MP flounces out of the meeting claiming “Some of her ministers were crying in there”.’


May: ‘I won’t fight the next election’

There are multiple media reports that Mrs May has told MPs she won’t lead the party into the next election, which is currently scheduled for 2022. Mrs May let that be known via her allies earlier today, but now she has said it herself, reportedly.


May looking to placate the DUP

The FT’s Sebastian Payne, who is outside the committee room, reports that the prime minister told MPs at the meeting that she is looking for a legally binding solution to the Northern Irish backstop conundrum that the DUP can vote for.


Foster: ‘We will work towards a deal in the coming weeks’

Our political correspondent Laura Hughes reports that Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has been speaking after her meeting with Mrs May earlier. Mrs Foster said:

“We had a useful meeting with the prime minister. It was an opportunity to outline why the current withdrawal agreement is dangerous to our economy and the Union. We emphasised that tinkering around the edges would not work. We were not seeking assurances or promises. We wanted fundamental legal text changes. The prime minister has known our position. We have been consistent which is why it is so frustrating that our warnings about the backstop have not been heeded. The DUP wants a sensible deal which our MPs can support in the House. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work towards that. Unionism in Northern Ireland and across the House of Commons has rightly stood against this Withdrawal Agreement. It should be utterly unacceptable to any unionist. For Northern Ireland traders to be expected to treat GB as a third country is ridiculous and was never going to receive support in Parliament.”

Mrs Foster’s statement that the DUP intends to work towards a deal “in the coming weeks” suggests that the party would not support any Parliamentary motion of no confidence in the coming days, if the Opposition tables one. That could be vital in giving Mrs May the numbers she needs to remain in power.


Get on with Brexit

The FT’s Laura Hughes says James Cleverly, the Conservative Party deputy chairman, has given journalists a brief read-out of from the 1922 committee: “The tone she [Theresa May] was taking was very much about getting Brexit delivered, making sure that happens – that’s our primary duty so that we can get on with other stuff.”


The scene in the room

A PA photographer has taken these snaps from the other side of the river, outside Parliament. They show the view through the window of the committee room, and the crush of bodies inside the room as MPs listened to Mrs May’s address.


Voting has started

MPs are voting in committee room 14 of the Palace of Westminster. The question is whether they have confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of the party. There are 317 MPs eligible to vote; she needs a straight majority, which would be 159. Voting is open until 8pm, and we should have a result shortly after that. If the voting goes quickly, we could even have a result before that.


Questions over what May has promised

There is some question about the nuance of what exactly Mrs May has promised about whether she will lead the Conservatives into the 2022 election. Mrs May’s allies briefed earlier in the day that she would step down before that, and there are multiple reports that she said so herself in her address to MPs. But Sky News reports that Jacob Rees Mogg has cast doubt on the strength of that promise.

https://twitter.com/RaynerSkyNews/status/1072912700508856320

For those who don’t have access to Twitter, it says:

‘Jacob Rees-Mogg: “The PM hedged her bets on the question of leading the party into the 2022 election – she said she had no intention, but the word intention is a classic politician’s word, because it can change”.’

George Freeman MP – the former chair of the prime minister’s policy board – has Tweeted this take on Mrs May’s comments:

https://twitter.com/GeorgeFreemanMP/status/1072909832670380033

For non-Twitter users, it says:

‘Powerful & moving moment in the #1922 as the PM makes clear that she has has listened, heard & respects the will of the Party that once she has delivered an orderly Brexit, she will step aside for the election of a new Leader to lead the reunification & renewal we need. Respect.’


In the corridor

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard has been down in the corridor among the MPs waiting to vote. He reports:

Some MPs were left with the impression that Mrs May had ruled out leading the party into the next general election – but others were more suspicious.

Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford, said the prime minister had told the room that it was not the time for a leadership election: “What happens in 2022 is a totally different decision,” she said.

Nick Boles, a former minister, said Mrs May was “crystal clear” about her intentions. “She will not lead the Conservative Party into the next general election,” he said. “She now deserves the support of all Conservative MPs so she can get on with the job of delivering a Brexit compromise that can win a Commons majority.”

But other MPs came away with a different, more nuanced interpretation.

The prime minister told the room that she would – in theory – love to have led the party into the 2022 general election, not least to make up for the disastrous election last year. However, she recognised that this would cause concerns among colleagues. “It was not the clear promise that many MPs had hoped for,” said one minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent Eurosceptic, pointed out that Mrs May had used vague words. The prime minister said it was her “intention” not to fight the next election. “That’s one of those politician’s dangerous words,” he said.

There were tears from at least one MP as Mrs May sought to kill off the coup from her own backbench colleagues.

The prime minister was pressed repeatedly on whether she has a “plan B” if her Brexit agreement fails to win approval: she struggled to reassure those in the room.

“I’m supporting her tonight but if I was on the fence I don’t think her speech would have reassured me,” said one former cabinet minister. “She was quite weak in her answers.”

Another Tory MP said: “Same old recycled stuff. It felt like nothing had changed. She can’t get out of the same gear.” The response from another MP was sarcastic: “It was as if all of my pleasure centres were touched at once.”

Meanwhile Michael Gove, the Eurosceptic environment secretary – who has remained loyal to Mrs May – predicted that she would win tonight’s vote “handsomely”. Asked what that would mean numerically he said: “I studied English not maths.”


Tory MP on trial over his expenses makes it to the vote

According to Channel 4′s Michael Crick, Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for South Thanet, who has been a vocal supporter of what he calls a “proper Brexit”, has made the vote having come from Southwark Crown Court where he is on trial for making false election returns, which he denies. The jury is still deliberating.

This photo has been taken from his own website


Betting markets back May

Betting punters are putting their money on Mrs May’s political survival, according to the BetData Twitter feed, which has published this chart:

The betting markets give the prime minister a more than 80 per cent chance of winning this confidence vote.


Rudd says May is clear she won’t fight next election

Amid all the confusion about whether the prime minister had ruled out leading the party into the next general election in a bid to win over waverers, one allies Amber Rudd, has told Sky’s Beth Rigby, that Theresa May would not lead the party into the next election:

https://twitter.com/BethRigby/status/1072918079561220097

For those who can’t access Twitter, it reads:

Amber Rudd says PM clear she won’t fight next general election. That there are different interpretations of what the PM said is the insignia of the relationship with her party isn’t it.


A word on the numbers game

There are 317 MPs voting this evening. Mrs May needs 159 to back her in order to win. Beyond that, there’s a lot of focus at Westminster on what the margin of victory tells us about her position. If fewer than 100 of her MPs vote against her, she’s generally regarded as well-positioned. If that number gets up into the 120 to 130 range, it would suggest that some centre-ground support is becoming shaky – which wouldn’t be good news for Downing Street.

In the 1990s when then-prime minister John Major won a leadership contest, he got the backing of two-thirds of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. That would be 209 for Mrs May – with 108 MPs voting against. Major had only needed a simple majority but his autobiography tells the tale of how he set for himself a larger margin of safety. If he had not reached that level, he would have resigned, he wrote in retrospect.

Spectator political editor James Forsyth mentioned this earlier:

https://twitter.com/JGForsyth/status/1072809818665222144

For those without Twitter, it says:

‘A reminder from John Major’s autobiography that whatever PMs tell even their closest political allies, they have a floor in these votes which if they fall below—they’ll go.’


All quiet on the FX front

Our capital markets editor Katie Martin has an update on the markets:

That noise you can hear is traders twiddling their thumbs, munching pizza, and waiting for the vote result to roll in.

Sterling has edged back from its high for the day, struck as the market became more confident that Theresa May will live to fight another day in Number 10, and is now hovering just over 1 per cent higher on the day at $1.2623. If it holds around there, that’s probably as far as it can get in the event that Mrs May stays in place. If not … watch out below.

“How far does sterling rise [if she wins]?” Nomura asks. “1-2 per cent. Perhaps the last few days of price action are reversed. But the uncertainty remains and it’s hard to be super enthusiastic about sterling longs… Sterling heads higher, but not too much.”


Whip permanently restored to two MPs

The FT’s Laura Hughes reports an apparent coincidence on the same day of the confidence vote. The two MPs who were suspended from the Conservative Party have had the whip restored “permanently”, according to one of her Whitehall sources.

Mr Griffiths, who represents Burton, was suspended from the Conservative Party this summer after the publication of sexual misconduct allegations. Mr Elphicke, the MP for Dover, was suspended from the Conservative Party in November 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct which he denies.


Voting to end in 15 minutes

Tory MPs – pictured, Amber Rudd and Michael Gove – are now starting to filter away from parliament after casting their votes. The ballot will close at 8pm with a decision expected by 9pm.


Voting ends

It’s 8pm and the deadline for MPs to vote has passed. The votes will now be counted and we’re expecting the result within the hour.


Brexiter business leaders push for managed no-deal

Even if Mrs May wins the Tory confidence vote, a reminder of the scale of her task to push through her Brexit deal tonight after British business leaders including hotelier Sir Rocco Forte and Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin called for a managed No Deal exit from the EU.

In a statement, the group said:

The government’s deal is not in the best interests of business, nor is it the only option. The government has tried to portray Theresa May’s deal as the only one that delivers for business; that is simply not true. As businesses, we do not fear a managed No Deal but welcome it. A managed No Deal would be good for business.

Today’s no confidence vote must be a wake up call to all Parliamentarians. Regardless of the outcome of this evening’s vote, it is clear that Theresa May’s deal is dead on arrival, and increasingly a managed No Deal is the only option for the country.


The ballot paper

Here’s a picture of tonight’s ballot paper, posted on Twitter by the MP Margot James to demonstrate her support for the prime minister:


US businesses tune back in to Brexit risks

Our US business editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and trade editor James Politi report that the Tory confidence vote is attracting attention on the other side of the Atlantic:

For most US companies, Brexit risks have taken a back seat to concerns about Donald Trump’s tariff battle with China this year. This week, Britain has corporate America’s attention again.

“If you didn’t have the US-China relationship where it is today I think the Brexit issue would be very much front and centre in US minds,” Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, told the FT.

Volatility in US markets has been driven more by US-China trade issues, he said, but now “this Brexit issue has combined with what’s going on in Germany politically and France politically and Italy” to make the US business community “very nervous” about Europe’s leading economies

Marjorie Chorlins, executive director of the Chamber’s US-UK business council, said interest in the implications of Brexit for US businesses was broad-based and growing.

Theresa May’s government had made ”helpful efforts” to hear the views of the business community, she said, but the extent to which MPs have taken on board what businesses located in their constituencies have said to them about the risk of no deal was unclear.

“[US] companies are factoring in the risk of no deal – there’s been a lot of contingency planning,” she said. “Bottom line: We are looking for certainty, we are looking for clarity, and preparing for all scenarios.”

“I don’t think business could lobby more than it has,” said Duncan Edwards, chief executive of British American Business, a trade organisation focused on transatlantic trade, adding that there was some risk of business “overdoing it” by lobbying further.

Most US businesses have either put their contingency plans in place or concluded there is little more they can do, Mr Edwards said. His organisation had stopped running Brexit events in New York, he added, after seeing attendance and engagement fall off “dramatically”.


Theresa May is back in Downing Street

The prime minister has just arrived back at Number 10 and has given the waiting press pack a confident smile as she stepped out of the car.


Reporters invited into the room

Cameras are not generally allowed in Parliament, so we can’t bring you a live photo – although we’re hoping that the announcement of the result will be televised. Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard reports:

We are in committee room 14 where the result will be announced at about 9pm. It’s a vast ornate room – almost a hall – with vaulted ceilings, five chandeliers and vast paintings on the green wallpapered walls including “The Flight Of The Five Members” and “The House of Commons on March 3, 1642”. The excitement is palpable among more than 100 journalists waiting on lines of green seats at the back of the room. A dozen Tory MPs are chatting in groups at the other end of the room.

https://twitter.com/PickardJE/status/1072955328776597505


PM to speak again?

A microphone has appeared in Downing Street, so there is growing expectation that Mrs May is going to speak shortly after the result.


MPs waiting

MP Robert Halfon posted this picture of MPs waiting for the result:


Theresa May survives

Emoticon Theresa May has survived an attempted coup by Eurosceptic Conservative MPs. The prime minister won a vote of confidence by 200 to 117 votes. The Tory MPs still left in the room greeted the result with applause and cheers.


Sterling slips

Immediate reaction from commentators is that Mrs May victory is not convincing but enough to survive. Sterling falls from highs of the day, says FT’s Adam Samson. Up 0.95% against the US dollar at $1.2596 from $1.2640 just before the results were announced.


May exceeds previous leadership vote total

Cabinet minister Chris Grayling is reacting on TV. He says that the 200 MPs who voted for Mrs May tonight exceeds the number who voted for her in the 2016 leadership contest (she attracted 199 votes in the second round), and therefore this is a good result for her. His message to MPs who voted against her is that those people who campaigned for Brexit, they should focus on leaving the EU on 29 March and avoiding a second referendum or an election. Give her the time to deliver this for the UK, he says. She has been clear she doesn’t intend to fight the next election, but she will get us through the Brexit process.


Labour reacts

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour Party leader, has issued a statement. He said:

“Tonight’s vote makes no difference to the lives of our people. The prime minister has lost her majority in Parliament, her government is in chaos and she is unable to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the country and puts jobs and the economy first.

“That’s why she pulled the vote on her botched Brexit deal this week and is trying to avoid bringing it back to Parliament. It’s clear that she has not been able to negotiate the necessary changes in Europe.

“She must now bring her dismal deal back to the House of Commons next week so Parliament can take back control.

“Labour is ready to govern for the whole country and deliver a deal that protects living standards and workers’ rights.”


The markets dip

Katie Martin, our capital markets editor, has an update on the pound:

Oddly, perhaps, Mrs May’s victory has slightly dented sterling. It is now down at $1.26, taking the day’s gain to 0.9 per cent (it was up around 1.1 per cent before the result). Analysts had warned that the immediate reaction could be hard to call. Stay tuned …


Business calls for unity

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, said after the vote:

This vote was a chaotic detour that needs to be put to good use. Politicians must finally stop the endless infighting of the past 30 months and come together to secure a workable Brexit deal. Companies and the country have had enough of chaos.

Uncertainty is throttling firms and threatening jobs – not in the future but right now. Firms are desperate for clarity and need to know for certain a no deal Brexit will not happen. Until they do, damage to investment, jobs and future growth will continue.


Rees-Mogg calls on May to quit

Prominent Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg has reacted to the vote result by calling on the prime minister to resign. “It’s a terrible result for the prime minister,” he told the BBC. Of the 160-170 Tory MPs who are not on the government payroll, more than half voted against her, he says.

Asked whether he will refuse to accept this result, he says yes he does accept it but “the prime minister must realise that under all constitutional norms she ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign”.

“Constitutionally if a prime minister cannot get her business through the Commons, and on Monday the prime minister stood up and said that she was going to lose so heavily that she wasn’t even going to present the vote, and then discovers that the overwhelming majority of her backbenchers have voted against her, she clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the House of Commons and she should hand over to someone who does.”


Hammond calls on MPs to ‘focus on the future’

Chancellor Philip Hammond has taken to Twitter to issue a rallying call for Mrs May.

“Tonight’s vote of confidence in the Prime Minister @theresa_may, is the right one. Now is the time to focus on the future. Her deal means we will honour the referendum result while safeguarding jobs and maintaining business confidence,” he Tweeted.

https://twitter.com/PhilipHammondUK/status/1072962492605890562


Eurosceptics react

Our political correspondent Laura Hughes has been talking to some leading Conservative Eurosceptic MPs:

Peter Bone said: “She said in 2017 she would lead the Conservative Party if she had the support of the Parliamentary party. Clearly when you’ve got more than a third voting against you don’t. So if she honours her word she will decide in the interests of the party and the nation she will go. The payroll vote is more than 150. So it’s clear the overwhelming backbenchers voting against. How can she govern when she doesn’t have a third of the party supporting her?”

Another MP, who said they had submitted a letter, said: “She limps on, loses the meaningful view and we are back to square one.”

Another added: “117 is much bigger than we were expecting. She has a huge problem.”

One Eurosceptic MP said: “She won. She now needs to deliver on the promise. I’m waiting to see the legally enforceable change to the backstop promised tonight. Otherwise all those that voted confidence have been spun a yarn.”

Mark Francois, ERG deputy chairman, said: “For any prime minister, that is a pretty devastating indictment. Something has changed because one-third of her MPs said they don’t have confidence in her.”

Owen Paterson tweeted: “V poor result for PM – setting aside the payroll, she has secured well under half of the Backbench vote. She must now listen to those of us concerned that she is failing to deliver our clear manifesto pledges to leave Single Market, Customs Union and remit of ECJ.”


May supporters react

Chief political correspondent Jim Pickard reports:

Mrs May’s supporters, talking to journalists in the corridor after the vote, expressed relief. One Tory MP said that if Mrs May had lost there would have been a leadership election that would have been a “unicorn auction” with increasingly implausible promises by Eurosceptics competing to sound anti-EU. “It would have been No Deal vs No Deal Ever vs War With France Tomorrow,” he said.

Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister – and a close ally of Mrs May – said the result allowed the prime minister to “get back to the job, which is what she wants to do”.

Mr Green said that he thought a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit was now “less likely than it was before the vote”. Asked whether the result would silence the ERG, he said: “I think so.”

“This has been all about accepting a democratic result, I hope that those who voted against the prime minister will accept this democratic vote.”

Neil O’Brien, who made an impassioned speech backing the prime minister earlier in the day, said: “It’s a very clear result, and everyone should now unite behind her. The party has made its view extremely clear.”

Mark Garnier, a former minister, said that the result would end the “tomfoolery” of the rebels.


Theresa May seeks to reassure

The prime minister has given a short speech outside Downing Street, trotting out her usual platitudes about delivering Brexit as well as urging MPs to get behind her as she goes to Brussels in search of legal assurances that she hopes will be enough to reassure those worried about the so-called Northern Irish backstop.

She said she was “pleased to have received my colleagues’ backing” as she promised to “listen to colleagues” who voted against her. She said it was now time to “get on with the job of delivering … for the British people”. She added it was time to “bring the country together rather than entrenching division, this must start here in Westminster”.

She added: “When I go to the European Council tomorrow I will be seeking legal and political assurances that assuage the concerns that Members of Parliament have.”


ERG urges May to put withdrawal agreement to Parliament

It doesn’t look as though the result of the vote has taken any wind out of the rebels’ sails. The FT’s Laura Hughes has this comment from an MP who is in an official position at the European Research Group, the hardline Brexiters who have become the nucleus of Tory opposition to Mrs May:

“The parliamentary arithmetic remains unchanged. We cannot and will not support the disastrous withdrawal agreement the prime minister has negotiated. We urge her to bring it back to Parliament without delay so that the view of the House of Commons can clearly be demonstrated, and we can move on to a viable policy instead.

“If Theresa May pushes ahead with her deal, which our confidence and supply partner [the DUP] quite rightly cannot support, we are set to have a general election she has said she will not lead us into, and which no one can realistically think she would win.”


IoD calls for May to avoid no deal

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, asks Mrs May to get back to negotiating a Brexit deal.

In all the twists and turns of Brexit, this may prove to be the most pointless and the most short-lived. We are approaching the biggest economic change this country has faced in a generation, companies and their employees deserve to have their political leaders focussed on what really matters: allowing people to work and conduct business with the least disruption possible. The attention now must be on avoiding no deal and then negotiating our future relationship with the EU.


We are wrapping things up

We are going to wrap up our live coverage of yet another extraordinary day in Westminster in the two-and-a-half years since the UK voted to leave the EU. Prime minister Theresa May survives to fight another day although with authority increasingly being called into question.

On Thursday, Mrs May will travel to Brussels in the afternoon ahead of a summit with EU leaders on Friday. She has promised to obtain “legal and political assurances” that she hopes will save her Brexit deal. But amid continued opposition from hardline Brexiters in her own party as well as Northern Ireland’s DUP, which is meant to prop up her minority government, those prospects look increasingly slim.

Thank you for joining us and goodnight