After the 1922 executive of Conservative backbenchers decided this evening to wait until Friday to speak to the Prime Minister about announcing an exit date, there had been a view that Theresa May was safe in her position – at least for 36 hours. That is now in doubt. Andrea Leadsom has tonight announced her resignation as Leader of the House. In her resignation letter, the Brexiteer minister says that she has made the decision to leave government due to concerns over May’s position on Brexit. Of the deal as it now stands, Leadsom says she is concerned that May’s latest pitch means the government is ‘facilitating’ a second referendum and says there has been a ‘breakdown’ in the way the government approves Brexit policy:
It is with great regret and a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from the Government. pic.twitter.com/f2SOXkaqmH
— Andrea Leadsom MP (@andrealeadsom) May 22, 2019
When it comes to unhappy Cabinet ministers, Leadsom’s name has been at the top end of the list for some time. The Brexiteer has regularly raised concerns at Cabinet over the direction of change in terms of the government’s Brexit stance. This week, Leadsom spoke against a second referendum in Cabinet. She is one of a number of ministers who were surprised to see May go further than they thought they had agreed at Cabinet when she addressed the press on Tuesday. Given Leadsom’s Cabinet role meant she was in charge of the government’s legislative agenda, Leadsom would have likely had to table government business she objected to had she stayed on.
Leadsom has also suggested that she still harbours leadership ambitions – after coming second in the last leadership election before standing aside to let May take the top job. It follows that by leaving now, Leadsom could argue in her campaign that she took a stand against the softening of the Brexit deal. As Leader of the House, Leadsom has won praise from colleagues across the House for her response to the ‘Pestminster’ scandal – and she has impressed Tory colleagues with her efforts standing up to John Bercow.
So, what does this mean for May’s position? At present, it remains the case that Sir Graham Brady is to meet May on Friday to discuss her exit. The expectation is that if May does not name a date, the committee will move to change the rules. It follows that regardless of Leadsom’s resignation, May was on the way out. However, if Leadsom’s resignation sparks other ministers follow, May will come under pressure to act sooner than Friday. Certainly May’s current stance of failing to respond to requests for meetings with her Cabinet colleagues looks hard to keep up if she is to avoid more resignations before the night is out.