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May averts Tory mutiny by agreeing to set her exit date after Brexit bill vote

The Guardian logo The Guardian 16/05/2019 Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent
a person posing for the camera: Theresa May smiles as she leaves parliament on Thursday. © AFP/Getty Images Theresa May smiles as she leaves parliament on Thursday.

Theresa May has been given a three-week reprieve by mutinous Conservative MPs, but has agreed to set out her departure date from No 10 after the vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement bill, the chair of the Tory backbench committee has said.

In a statement after the 90-minute meeting with the prime minister in the House of Commons, the chair of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, said: “The prime minister is determined to secure our departure from the European Union and is devoting her efforts to securing the second reading of the withdrawal agreement bill in the week commencing 3rd June 2019 and the passage of that bill and the consequent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union by the summer.

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© PA

“We have agreed that she and I will meet following the second reading of the bill to agree a timetable for the election of a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist party.”

May had agreed to meet with the committee’s executive on Thursday, which represents Tory backbenchers, after MPs demanded a specific timetable for her departure from No 10.

The prime minister has only committed so far that she will resign after passing the first stage of the Brexit process, before the negotiations on the future relationship begin.

© Getty Downing Street has hinted the prime minister sees the vote on the withdrawal agreement bill – scheduled for the week beginning 3 June – as make or break for her premiership and the deal she has negotiated.

Before the meeting, executive member Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said it would be “much more dignified” for May to name a date, rather than oblige the committee to change party rules to oust her.

Related: Theresa May's political career in pictures (Photos)

Last month the executive narrowly voted against a rule change, but it is believed that opinion could switch if May declines to name a date.

Asked when the prime minister should depart, he told Sky News: “Personally, the sooner the better, and that’s not being unkind to the prime minister. I just think the longer this goes on, it’s not in the nation’s interests, it’s not in the party’s interests. We’ve got European elections looming. Goodness knows what the results of that will be.

“I think the genesis of this all started at the beginning of the negotiations,” he said. “If she had been much tougher on the negotiations – instead of allowing the Europeans to set the timetable – if she had said: ‘No, no, no, this is how we are going to do the negotiations, if you don’t like it, we’ll leave without a deal,’ then I think we would be in a much better position now.”

The international development secretary, Rory Stewart, said setting a departure date would not “make the slightest difference” to getting her Brexit deal approved.

“People said it would be two months ago when she announced that she was stepping down and it didn’t help her get votes through the House of Commons,” he told the Press Association.

“The problem is the country is split absolutely down the middle – Scotland against England, London against the north, young people against old – and it’s a very divided, fractious issue which is why we’ve got to get it resolved and move on.”

Should she still be in office, May will also face a no-confidence vote from party officials and members on 15 June at an extraordinary general meeting – though it is non-binding.

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