British politics was thrown into chaos and Brexit into doubt Wednesday as Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Theresa May that will see her removed as party and government leader if she loses.
May vowed to fight the challenge “with everything I’ve got,” after Graham Brady, who heads a committee overseeing Conservative leadership contests, said he had received letters from at least 48 lawmakers asking for a vote.
As a result, he said, “the threshold of 15 percent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded.”
Brady said the vote would be held in Parliament between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. (1800GMT and 2000GMT) on Wednesday evening, with the results announced soon after.
The announcement throws Britain’s already rocky path out of the European Union, which it is due to leave in March, into further chaos.
Many Tory lawmakers have been growing angry with May over her handling of Brexit, and the challenge comes days after she postponed a vote to approve a divorce deal with the EU to avoid all-but-certain defeat.
If she loses the confidence vote, May must step down and there will be a contest to choose a new leader. She will remain leader, and prime minister, until the successor is picked. If she wins, she can’t be challenged again for a year.
In a defiant statement outside 10 Downing St., May said “a change of leadership in the Conservative Party now will put our country’s future at risk.” She said ousting her and holding a leadership vote — a process that could take weeks — could result in Brexit being delayed or even stopped.
May canceled a trip to Dublin to meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, to stay in London and battle for lawmakers’ support.
Many supporters of Brexit say May’s deal fails to deliver on the clean break with the bloc that they want.
Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson accused May of acting like a “supplicant” in dealings with the EU.
“She’s not the person to see Brexit through,” he said.
Leading pro-Brexit legislators Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a joint statement that “in the national interest, she must go.”
But Cabinet colleagues rallied to May’s support. Home Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted that a leadership contest, with Brexit little more than three months away, “will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong. PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “I think it’s vital for the country that she wins tonight.”
He said that if May lost, “I don’t think we will be leaving the European Union on the 29th of March.”