Teresa May has told Tory MPs that she will quit as PM once the U.K. has formally quit the European Union, in a dramatic last-ditch attempt to secure support for her deal.
Speaking to backbenchers in a packed room in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, May said she would step down as prime minister sooner than previously thought, but did not give a firm date for her departure.
Paying tribute to her staff and her team, the prime minister – who reportedly had a “crack in her voice” as she spoke – is hoping the announcement will unlock the vital support needed to get her Brexit deal through parliament, securing the backing of key figures such as Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith.
“I don’t go around the bars gossiping with colleagues. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard the message,” she said.
May told MPs this has been a “testing time for our country and our party”, and said “we’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future.”
But she said she had understood the mood of the parliamentary party, and of the desire for “a new approach, and new leadership, in the second phase of the 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,” she said. “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 prime minister has hinted that she might bring back her deal and ask MPs to vote on it for a third time, possibly on Friday.
In December, after a third of her MPs voted to oust her, the PM told her party that she would not lead them into the next general election.
But since then she has come under intense pressure from Brexiteers to give more clarity over whether she would not remain in No.10 for the ‘next phase’ of talks with Brussels on a future UK-EU trade deal, after we leave the bloc.
Although a precise resignation date was not a realistic expectation among Tory backbenchers, many wanted a ‘direction of travel’ from May, to clarify she would not be in charge once the formal divorce with the EU had occurred.
Earlier, during prime minister’s question time, May fueled speculation she would give more information on her intentions.
SNP leader Ian Blackford had accused her of planning to “ride off into the sunset and saddle us with a crisis in the UK and an extreme right-wing Brexiteer coming into Downing Street”.
May refused to deny the accusation, saying only “it is my sense of responsibility and duty that has meant I have kept working to ensure Brexit is delivered”.
On Tuesday, a source told HuffPost UK that influential Tory MP Sir Graham Brady had communicated to the PM that more “clarity” on her future would be welcomed by backbenchers.