28 Mar 2019

Theresa May says she'll step down once Brexit delivered

7:17 am on 28 March 2019

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has told her Conservative Party MPs she will hand over the leadership once Brexit is delivered.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May.

Photo: AFP / PRU

Mrs May said she would not stay in power for the next phase of Brexit talks on the future trading relationship.

She said she knew there was a desire in the Conservative Party for a new approach in the second phase of Brexit negotiations.

"I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party."

But she did not set a firm departure date, according to Tory MPs who were at the meeting where Mrs May spoke.

The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said a Tory leadership contest could be expected in May.

Mrs May told the 300 or so Tory MPs at the meeting "we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit".

"I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty - to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit."

The BBC's Iain Watson said Boris Johnson - a likely contender in any leadership contest - was smiling broadly as he left the meeting, but did not make any comment.

Speaking after the meeting, Tory MP James Cartlidge said: "My recollection is that she said she would not remain in post for the next phase of the negotiations, the implication being that once the withdrawal agreement has passed, she would make way for someone else."

Tory MP Simon Hart told BBC's journalist Nick Watt that Mrs May had said she would want to pass her Brexit withdrawal agreement and then set in motion process to replace her.

Mrs May's critics do not want her to be still in charge for the next phase of Brexit talks, when the two sides hammer out what kind of trading relationship they will have - if her deal is passed by Parliament.

The PM has said she wants to bring the deal back to the Commons this week, after it was previously rejected twice, by large margins.

Mrs May has been trying to drum up support for her Brexit deal - which has been twice rejected by Parliament - in the hope of putting it to a third vote.

In the meantime MPs will be voting on eight different options ranging from leaving the European Union without a deal to cancelling Brexit altogether.

However the government has made it clear it won't necessarily be bound by the results.

Speaker calls for changes

Commons Speaker John Bercow ruled last week that the government could not return for a third attempt, unless there had been "substantial" changes to the proposals.

And he warned ministers earlier that they should "not seek to circumvent my ruling" by introducing procedures that could reverse his judgment.

But a Downing Street spokesperson said there had been a "significant development" at the summit in Brussels last week, after Mrs May agreed "extra reassurances" over the Irish backstop with the EU, and the date of exit had changed.

Many Tory Brexiteers are looking to the Democratic Unionist Party, who have led opposition to the PM's deal, before deciding whether to get behind it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairperson of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers, told the BBC: "I think that we have got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all.

"Half a loaf is better than no bread."

He said his only condition for supporting the deal was that Mrs May wins round the DUP.

"I won't abandon the DUP because I think they are the guardians of the union of the United Kingdom," he said.