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Defiant Theresa May vows to fight on in the face of Cabinet resignations and an all-out Tory Brexiteer bid to oust her by telling her critics: 'Put the national interest first'

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 15/11/2018 James Tapsfield, Political Editor and Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline and Kate Ferguson, Senior Political Correspondent For Mailonline and Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter For Mailonline

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Video: Defiant May insists she will see the Brexit plan through (ITN)

Theresa May vowed defiance tonight after Brexiteers effectively declared war - with Cabinet ministers quitting and an all-out bid to oust her.

The Prime Minister used a press conference in Downing Street to double down on her determination to press ahead with her controversial pact with the EU.

Despite a slew of high-profile resignations and the near-certain prospect of a Tory no-confidence vote in her leadership, Mrs May insisted she would keep 'putting the national interest first'.

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'I believe with every fibre in my body that the course I have set out is the right one,' she said. 

She admitted that the burden of leadership was 'heavy' at the best of times and even tougher when Brexit pervaded every part of the UK economically and socially. 

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More on this story:

May hit by flurry of resignations: Follow live reaction (Evening Standard)

Summary of May's Brexit deal: Key points from 585 page document (Guardian)

'Parliament should reject May's rotten Brexit deal' (FT)

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Laying down the gauntlet to her critics, Mrs May said: 'Nobody has proposed any alternative proposal that honours the referendum and protects the border in Northern Ireland.'

Asked if she would fight on even if she only wins a Tory no-confidence ballot by one vote, Mrs May retorted: 'Am I going to see this through? Yes.' 

Theresa May wearing a suit and tie: The Prime Minister used a press conference in Downing Street (pictured) to double down on her determination to press ahead with her controversial pact with the EU © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Prime Minister used a press conference in Downing Street (pictured) to double down on her determination to press ahead with her controversial pact with the EU The stand came after Dominic Raab and Esther McVey poured petrol on the raging Brexit row this morning by resigning in protest at her fledgling deal, which she forced through Cabinet during a fraught five-hour meeting last night.

They accused her of bowing to EU 'blackmail' and failing to honour the result of the referendum - with a series of other junior ministers also falling on their swords.

Video: Raab: Brexit deal is ‘devastating’ for trust in democracy (ITN)

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In devastating exchanges in the Commons minutes after the bombshells dropped, the premier was then mauled by MPs from all sides over her 'dogs dinner' plan.

And Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg signalled an all-out assault declaring he has written to the powerful Tory 1922 committee demanding a no-confidence vote.

a group of people standing in front of a building © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited In more woe for the PM, there are claims Michael Gove has turned down the chance to take over as Brexit Secretary, saying he would want to renegotiate the whole package with the EU.

The chaos sent the Pound plunging as markets took fright at the chances of a Brexit deal receding. 

In an emotional opening passage, Mrs May stressed her sense of duty to deliver Brexit in the best way for the country.

'Serving in high office is an honour and privilege. It is also a heavy responsibility – that is true at any time but especially when the stakes are so high,' she said.

‘And negotiating the UK’s Withdrawal of the EU after some 40 years and building from the ground up a new and enduring relationship for the good of our children and grandchildren is a matter of the highest consequence.

a man and a woman walking down a street: A defiant Mrs May (pictured in Downing Street today) told MPs that she would carry on in the 'national interest', despite admitting the compromises involved were not 'comfortable' © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited A defiant Mrs May (pictured in Downing Street today) told MPs that she would carry on in the 'national interest', despite admitting the compromises involved were not 'comfortable' ‘It touches almost every area of our national life – a whole economy and virtually every job - the livelihoods of our fellow citizens, our integrity as a United Kingdom of four nations, our safety and security – all of these are at stake.’ 

Told that the Commons and her own party seemed overwhelmingly opposed to the Brexit plan she is championing, Mrs May said: ‘Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.

‘As Prime Minister my job is to bring back a deal which delivers on the vote of the British people. That does that by ending free movement – all the things I raised in my statement, ending free movement, ensuring we are not sending vast annual sums to the EU any longer, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but that also protects jobs, protects people’s livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.

‘I believe this is a deal that does deliver that, which is in the national interest.' 

Mrs May - a keen cricket fan - also compared herself to her hero Geoffrey Boycott, who was known for his obstinate and slow-scoring innings. 'He stuck to it, and got the runs in the end,' she joked.

At a meeting of the powerful Conservative ERG group this afternoon also attended by Boris Johnson, Mr Rees-Mogg confirmed that he had put in his letter, saying Mrs May had 'failed to meet her promises' and it was 'too late' for her to turn it around.

And at a press conference afterwards he denying mounting a 'coup' but said: 'This is not Brexit. This is a failure of government policy.' 

Video: Rees-Mogg suggests Tories who could deliver Brexit (Sky News)

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The hardline Brexiteer ruled out running in any leadership contest - picking out Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, David Davis and Penny Mordaunt as contenders.

MailOnline has learned government whips are now canvassing MPs on which way they will vote - suggesting they believe the trigger threshold of 48 letters has been reached. Downing Street insisted she will fight if a challenge is held. If she does not secure backing from a majority of MPs a full leadership contest would be triggered. 

A party vote of no confidence would take a matter of days. But if May loses, a leadership contest could take months - although some MPs claim it can be done in as little as two weeks. 

In an another day of fast-moving high drama at Westminster: 

a screenshot of text: Mr Raab revealed his resignation on Twitter today saying he could not 'in good conscience' support the Brexit deal © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Raab revealed his resignation on Twitter today saying he could not 'in good conscience' support the Brexit deal Despite Brexiteer and Remainer MPs from across parties lining up to condemn her plans in the Commons, the PM defiantly pledged she would carry on in the 'national interest' even if the compromises involved were not 'comfortable'.

'I will bring it to Parliament and ask MPs to consider it in the national interest,' she said.

'The choice is clear. We can choose to leave with no deal. We can have no Brexit at all. Or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated.' 

a screenshot of text: Mr Vana said today he resigned with great regret but insisted that Britain deserves better than what Mrs May is offering them © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Vana said today he resigned with great regret but insisted that Britain deserves better than what Mrs May is offering them 'I choose to deliver for the British people. I choose to do what is in the national interest.' 

But barely any MPs spoke up for Mrs May's position - further fuelling fears of a fatal threat to her leadership. 

In signs of increasing desperation, there are claims that Mrs May offered Michael Gove the Brexit Secretary job in a bid to stop him walking out - but he turned it down. 

Despite ERG head Mr Rees-Mogg, former minister Steve Baker and backbencher Henry Smith confirming their letters had gone in, other senior figures said there was still a 'difference of opinion' over whether Mrs May should be challenged.

Veteran Brexiteer Sir Edward Leigh said: 'If you succeed in this coup detat you just strengthen her opinion. There is also the question of loyalty. The problem is intractable.

'I believe we should stop this deal by voting it down in Parliament.'

In interviews today, Mr Raab played down calls for a change in the leadership saying he had 'respect' for Mrs May and 'supports this Prime Minister'. 

'I remain loyal to this Prime Minister, I want her to stay in office,' he told Sky News. 

Mr Raab is understood to have endorsed the draft deal 'with a heavy heart' at a fraught five-hour Cabinet meeting yesterday, but harboured deep concerns about the UK being locked into the Irish border 'backstop'.

In his resignation letter, Mr Raab - who only succeeded David Davis in the post in July - said he had 'enduring respect' for Mrs May but added: 'I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.'

Ms McVey, who made what was described as an 'emotional' assault on the Brexit deal during Cabinet yesterday, said in her letter that it did not 'honour the result of the referendum'.

'Indeed it doesn't meet the tests you set from the outset of your premiership,' she added.

The resignations came in quick succession after Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara announced his departure, this morning claiming Mrs May is trying to 'shackle' Britain to the EU 'indefinitely'.

Brexit minister Suella Braverman has quit, as has ministerial aide Anne-Marie Trevelyan - a strong supporter of Boris Johnson. 

Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt is also believed to be on the edge. She was in the Commons chamber this morning answering questions on her brief.

Fevered speculation erupted after Mr Gove cancelled a visit in Yorkshire, although aides insisted it was for personal reasons. They did not respond to questions about whether he was quitting.

As rumours swept Westminster today, there are claims Mr Gove has been offered the Brexit Secretary job but is insisting he should be able to renegotiate the deal with the EU.

Remainer Tory MP Anna Soubry said Mr Raab's resignation 'marks the end of PMs Withdrawal Agreement' and called for a 'government of national unity'.

The mounting crisis is on the verge of torpedoing the entire package painstakingly thrashed out with Brussels over two years - and throwing Mrs May herself out of power.

EU council leader Donald Tusk nodded to the problems this morning as he said a summit to sign off the deal will happen on November 25 'if nothing extraordinary happens'.  

In a pointed aside later, he told reporters later: 'The EU is prepared for a final deal with the United Kingdom in November,' he told a news conference in Brussels. 

'We are also prepared for a no-deal scenario but of course we are best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario.' 

Dominic Raab in a suit standing in front of a window: Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab In his resignation letter, Mr Raab said: 'I regret to say that, following the Cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign.

'I understand why you have chosen to pursue the deal with the EU on the terms proposed, and I respect the different views held in good faith by all of our colleagues.

a woman smiling for the camera: Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey refused to answer questions about whether she is going to resign as she left her London home today (pictured) - but within an hour she had gone  © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey refused to answer questions about whether she is going to resign as she left her London home today (pictured) - but within an hour she had gone  'For my part, I cannot support the proposed deal for two reasons. First, I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

'Second, I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit.

'The terms of the backstop amount to a hybrid of the EU Customs Union and Single Market obligations.

a group of people sitting and standing in front of a crowd: Mrs May faced an agonising barrage from Eurosceptics today as questions mounted about whether she can hold her Brexit deal together  © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mrs May faced an agonising barrage from Eurosceptics today as questions mounted about whether she can hold her Brexit deal together 

'No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.

'That arrangement is no also taken as the starting point for negotiating the Future Economic partnership.

'If we accept that, it will severely prejudice the second phase of negotiations against the UK.' 

Mr Vara said the draft agreement 'leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation'.

In an eviscerating resignation letter he added: 'We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown that they do not have our best interests at heart. We must and can do better than this'. 

Mrs May acknowledged last night that she has 'difficult days' ahead with Brexiteers in her party openly plotting to topple her - while warning: 'It is this or Jeremy Corbyn.'

But Mrs May appeared unprepared for the sheer volume of fury that greeted her in the Commons today.

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds accused her of failing to 'listen' and putting the United Kingdom at risk.

He told MPs: 'I could today stand here and take the Prime Minister through the list of promises and pledges she made to this house and to us, privately, about the future of Northern Ireland in the future relationship with the EU.

'But I fear it would be a waste of time since she clearly doesn't listen.'

He went on: 'The choice is now clear: we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom, or we vote for a vassal state with the breakup of the United Kingdom, that is the choice.'

Tory Eurosceptic Mark Francois told her she must recognise that her Brexit plan is 'dead on arrival'. 

During the three Just a handful of MPs spoke up in support - underlining the depth of her problems.

And a jubilant Mr Corbyn punched the bruise, despite his own party being in a shambles over Brexit.

'After two years of bungled negotiations the Government has produced a botched deal that breaches the Prime Minister's own red lines and does not meet our six tests,' he told MPs.

'The Government is in chaos. Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say.

'When even the last Brexit Secretary, who theoretically at least negotiated the deal, says 'I cannot support the proposed deal', what faith does that give anyone else in this place or in this country?

'The Government simply cannot put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected.

'No-deal is not a real option and the Government has not seriously prepared for it.'

Jacob Rees-Mogg wearing a suit and tie: Mr Rees-Mogg speaks to the media outside the Commons today © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Rees-Mogg speaks to the media outside the Commons today Mr Rees-Mogg said last night that he was 'closer than ever' to sending a letter of no-confidence to the 1922 Committee chairman - a threat on which he has now made good.

Speaking to journalists today, Mr Rees-Mogg said the leader can change in quickly, adding: 'I think the process can be sped up'.

Asked who he would like to see as leader, he said: 'We will have to see who throws their hat in the ring. It needs to be somebody who believes in Brexit. We have seen from Mrs May's experience that leading when you don't believe in Brexit makes it very difficult because you make the wrong compromises.'

He said he would not run, saying: 'This is not why I am sending in the letter. It has never been about me it has always been about Brexit.'

But he said that many of the Cabinet ministers who have quit over Brexit would be good leaders.

He said: 'Dominic Raab is a very impressive individual who has shown his courage through his resignation.

'Boris Johnson is a very impressive individual, ditto, Penny Mordaunt, ditto, Esther McVey is absolutely splendid. And it just shows the widespread ability the Conservative Party has – the very good people we have who would make very fine leaders.'

He said if a new leader is elected they should return to Brussels and say 'look you have offered us a free trade deal, we are happy to make a financial settlement in return for it'. 

a screenshot of a social media post: Mr Rees-Mogg published his letter today © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Rees-Mogg published his letter today

Asked about how many letters he thinks have gone in, Mr Rees-Mogg said: 'I think the number is growing. And unexpected people are putting them in.

'I have put it in and I have done it publicly because I think when you do something like that you ought to be open about it. It is a very important decision.'

'The key is that people don't want this dl. As you discovered in the Chamber of the House of Commons there is absolutely no support for this deal.'

Asked what the chances are that the PM will survive, he said: 'It is always difficult. They turn out to be like weather forecasts. 

Senior Tories have voiced alarm that Mrs May is opening a door to Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM by sacrificing the support of the DUP in a bid to push through her 'nightmare' Brexit deal.

'We cannot survive without the DUP,' one senior MP told MailOnline. 'And this deal cannot get through unless sufficient Labour MPs vote for it.

'Corbyn smells defeat and I'm sure he will not throw her a lifeline.' 

Mr Corbyn seized on the PM's weakness in the Commons today, confirming that Labour MPs will be whipped to vote against the package.

a close up of text on a black background © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited May's former aid accuses her of 'capitulating' to EU 

The PM's former chief of staff has accused her of 'capitulation' in the Brexit talks.

Nick Timothy, who resigned after the botched election, admitted compromises were 'inevitable' in the negotiations. 

But he told the Telegraph: 'It is a capitulation not only to Brussels, but to the fears of the British negotiators themselves, who have shown by their actions that they never believed Brexit can be a success.

'This includes, I say with the heaviest of hearts, the Prime Minister.'

He hinted the UK should be prepared to threaten Brussels with reduced security co-operation to secure a better deal.

'With the stakes raised so high, the Government should be prepared, at last, to use all its leverage, including Britain's contribution to European security,' he said.

'When Parliament rejects the Prime Minister's proposal, as surely it will, there will still be time for ministers to negotiate something better.' 

The commitment further reduces the chances of Mrs May being able to get it through in a critical Commons showdown expected in the middle of next month - if the deal survives that long. 

Meanwhile in Brussels Mr Tusk revealed the EU's 27 leaders would rush to ratify the deal in ten days time - but there are still major doubts it will survive that long.

Speaking this morning he confirmed an emergency summit will take place on Sunday November 25 and said: 'Let me say to our British friends: as much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us'.

Last night the PM emerged from a marathon Cabinet meeting to claim a decisive breakthrough and said her cabinet came to a collective decision to back the settlement with Brussels having apparently told them it was 'this or Jeremy Corbyn'

But at least 10 ministers in the bruising five-hour meeting spoke out against parts of her deal.

a screenshot of a social media post: Mr Raab's resignation letter © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Raab's resignation letter The cabinet meeting is said to have exploded when Ms McVey called for a formal ministerial vote during the tempestuous debate over the draft agreement before Mrs May rebuffed her.

Others who declared themselves against the plans included International Trade Minister Liam Fox, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Home Secretary Sajid Javid. 

a screenshot of a social media post: Ms McVey's resignation letter © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Ms McVey's resignation letter After the Cabinet battle, which went on three hours longer than scheduled, the premier took to the steps of Downing Street admitting that the debate had been 'long and impassioned' and there were 'difficult days ahead'.

'The collective decision of Cabinet was that the government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the outline political declaration,' Mrs May said. 'I firmly believe with my head and heart that this decisive choice is in the best interests of the entire UK.' 

Mrs May's reference to a 'collective' decision rather than a unanimous one immediately raised eyebrows. Around 10 ministers - nearly a third of the total - are understood to have spoken out against parts of the package, amid reports that a no confidence vote against the PM could be triggered as early as today. 

a woman looking at the camera: Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt is also believed to be on the edge, but she was in the Commons chamber this morning answering questions on her brief © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt is also believed to be on the edge, but she was in the Commons chamber this morning answering questions on her brief Ms Mordaunt, who was thought to be among those closest to quitting, demanded assurances from the premier on key points. Defence Secretary Gavin Willliamson also expressed reservations about elements of the deal, as did Sajid Javid, Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt and Andrea Leadsom.

But one Cabinet source told MailOnline that Ms McVey was an 'outlier' in the strength of her opposition, and appeared 'emotional'. 

Scottish Secretary David Mundell had emerged as a potential risk after he signed a letter warning against giving away fishing rights as part of the agreement, but tonight confirmed that he was staying in the tent.  

An ex-minister told MailOnline: 'I think a few people are holding off, will read the deal, square off their associations this weekend, then put in a letter.'

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