As speculation mounted that a no-confidence vote was imminent, the prime minister appeared in front of the cameras at Downing Street and declared she was “going to see this through”.
She compared herself to her cricketing hero Geoffrey Boycott – someone who “stuck to it” and “got the runs in the end”.
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The opening act of yet another difficult day at the crease for Mrs May came when Dominic Raab quit as Brexit secretary, telling the PM her draft Brexit agreement was a “very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom” because of its implications for Northern Ireland.
Sky News understands Environment Secretary Michael Gove was offered the role of Brexit secretary, but he reportedly rejected it because he would have been unable to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the deal.
Mr Raab was followed out of the exit door by Esther McVey, who left her role as work and pensions secretary.
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She said she could not defend the agreement, which was approved by ministers at a marathon cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Five other Conservative MPs then quit their government or party roles, as the scale of the disquiet at Mrs May’s draft Brexit agreement with Brussels became apparent.
More was to follow when Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group, revealed he had submitted a letter of no-confidence in the PM.
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He denied suggestions it was the start of a “coup” against Mrs May, but suggested Mr Raab, Ms McVey, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, former Brexit secretary David Davis and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt as potential candidates.
The dramatic intervention from an MP considered as a standard bearer for the Brexiteer cause raised expectations a confidence vote in Mrs May’s leadership was on the cards.
A total of 48 letters of no-confidence from MPs are needed to trigger a ballot – and several other Tories followed Mr Rees-Mogg’s lead.
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But due to the rules governing such contests, Westminster is in the dark as to how close this threshold is to being met.
It was with this backdrop that Mrs May strode to the lectern in Number 10 and made clear she was sticking to her guns.
“I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people,” she said.
“Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.
“As PM, my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that does that by 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 also protects jobs and protects people’s livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.
“I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest, and am I going to see this through? Yes.”
After the PM’s statement, the focus turned to Mr Gove and Ms Mordaunt and whether they would join the exodus.
They remain in post – for now.
Ms Mordaunt is said to be pushing for a free vote on the agreement, meaning ministers would be able to vote freely when MPs give their verdict on the deal in a crucial Commons vote.
Mrs May faced three hours of questioning in the chamber earlier on Thursday, with MPs on both sides lining up to predict doom for her hopes of getting a deal approved by parliament.
Only a handful of her MPs spoke up in favour of it, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was a “half-baked deal” that his party would not support.
Asked about reports that the Democratic Unionist Party was preparing to end its confidence and supply agreement with the Tories unless it changes its leader, DUP sources said there is “a long way to go on Brexit”.
Sky’s senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins said: “The DUP think they don’t really need to act at present because the PM is facing open rebellion from her own party.
“So they’re just encouraging others in the House to oppose what they have described as a vassal state deal and threat to the Union.”
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