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Theresa May and the 48 letters: a year of false alarms

24 October 2018

7:30 AM

24 October 2018

7:30 AM

Once again, rumours began to swirl around Westminster on Tuesday that there would – finally – be a confidence vote in Theresa May. News outlets and journalists on Twitter breathlessly announced that the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, had received the necessary 48 letters from MPs to call a confidence vote.

Unfortunately for them, all the speculation ended up being untrue. Despite frequent claims that a Tory revolt is underway, the numbers never quite seem to add up. Only Brady himself knows how many letters MPs have sent, and he confirmed later that the threshold had not been reached this time.

This led Mr S to think: haven’t politicians and pundits predicted Theresa May’s impending doom several times before? Well, if you feel like you’re suffering from a large case of déjà vu after the latest would-be leadership election, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Steerpike has compiled a list of the reports so far alleging the number is close to the magic 48. Mr S will leave readers to decide whether Westminster hacks are confused – or Brady can’t count:


‘Tory bosses fear that just a few more MPs need to turn against Theresa May in order to trigger a vote on her leadership, it has emerged.

A no-confidence vote in the Conservative leader is automatically triggered if backbench chief Sir Graham Brady receives 48 letters from his colleagues.’

26 January 2018, the Sun


‘Mrs May will not be able to unite her party behind any given version of Brexit. If she follows the advice of moderates such as Philip Hammond, she may face a leadership challenge from Eurosceptic rebels. However, as the former chancellor George Osborne has pointed out, there is no parliamentary majority for the radical form of Brexit.’

2 February 2018, the Financial Times


‘Some Tory MPs have said that Mrs May could face a leadership challenge if the party performs particularly badly.’

19 March 2018, Politics Home


‘The PM has been warned that a concession to keep Britain in the 28-member customs union will prompt a flood of no-confidence letters from Brexitbacking MPs, which would likely trigger a leadership challenge, The Times reported.

One Conservative backbencher said: ‘If there’s a cave-in on the customs union, I think there will be a leadership challenge.’

Up to 48 letters are required for a leadership battle, according to Conservative Party rules.’

21 April 2018, the Daily Express


‘If the prime minister insists on forcing the NCP option, she may find herself quickly facing a leadership challenge and simply leave the problem for her successor to solve.’

16 May 2018, the Guardian


‘Press and party are deserting Theresa May – how long can she stagger on?

There are plenty available to replace her: Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson, Cameroon dark horse Jeremy Hunt and grass roots’ favourite Jacob Rees-Mogg.’

13 June 2018, the New Statesman


‘We are pretty close ‘Brexiteer warns May she’s only a few letters from leadership contest.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who has already issued a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, has claimed the party are closing in on a potential leadership challenge.’

19 July 2018, the Daily Express


‘Theresa May faces a surge in letters calling for a no-confidence vote if Boris Johnson is hauled over the coals for his burka jibes.

Furious Tory backbenchers made the warning as the ex-Foreign Secretary’s family rushed to his defence.

The party’s influential 1922 backbench committee needs just 48 letters to trigger a no-confidence vote in the PM — and MPs believe 38 have already been sent in the wake of her soft Chequers Brexit plan.

The Sun on Saturday revealed Mr Johnson could be sent for diversity training. But one MP said: “Any punishment beating will be the tipping point.

“People will send letters in. They can’t believe what’s happening.”’

12 August 2018, the Sun


‘How many MPs have sent letters so far?

The only person who knows for certain is Sir Graham.

But with an estimated 50 MPs openly discussing at a meeting of the European Research Group on Tuesday how to get rid of Mrs May, it is safe to assume the number of submitted letters is likely to be in double figures.

In fact it is thought there could be at least 35 letters now submitted to Sir Graham, just 13 short of the number needed.

A number of MPs at the ERG meeting told how they had already submitted letters of no confidence to Sir Graham and others discussed plans to follow suit.’

12 September 2018, the Telegraph


‘Still, the threat to the PM is very much alive. I was told by one source this morning that the 48 letter threshold for a confidence vote had indeed been reached. Only 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady (pictured above) knows the truth and he never comments. My understanding is that he would want to be sure that any letter was genuine and would check with signatories. If he’s been checking of late, maybe that sparked speculation that he was close to the total needed.’

22 October 2018, the Huffington Post


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