The threshold for triggering the no-confidence vote in Theresa May was reached twice in one day, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee has disclosed.
Sir Graham Brady said he received the 48th letter from a Tory MP calling for a confidence vote on Tuesday morning last week – only for, moments later, another MP to withdraw the letter they had submitted some time earlier.
Writing in Parliament’s The House magazine, Sir Graham, who never revealed the number of letters he was holding, said a third MP came to him later in the day with their letter, finally tipping the tally over the crucial 48 mark.
Under party rules, the chairman of the ’22 is required to stage a confidence vote in the party leader if 15% of the parliamentary party write to him calling for one.
Sir Graham described how, after weeks of speculation that a vote was about to be triggered, the drama unfolded when he bumped into a Conservative MP in one of the corridors of the Palace of Westminster.
“’I’m really sorry Graham, I didn’t want to do this, but I just can’t leave it any longer’. A House of Commons envelope travelled from his inside jacket pocket to mine in a matter of seconds. Unseen, the trigger had been pulled,” Sir Graham wrote.
“Lots of people have congratulated me on my poker face recently but never had it been more important that I remain impassive: any sign that this was a critical moment would have changed the whole dynamic of the process, so I bade the colleague farewell and walked quickly back to my office in Portcullis House.
“The door had barely closed when there was a knock on it. Standing there was a Conservative MP who had submitted a letter to me a couple of weeks before. ‘The timing is just bloody awful, I’d like to withdraw my letter’, they said. Back to 47.
“It was too early for a large whisky – or even a small one – so I just sat down and shook my head in disbelief.”
He said that it was the second time within a month that the total had reached 47. On the previous occasion the “tide had ebbed rapidly down the beach” as other MPs withdrew their letters.
“Would this happen again? No, in the afternoon the threshold was crossed again. This time it was going to be for real,” he wrote.
With the Prime Minister out of the country on a whistlestop tour of European capitals, Sir Graham telephoned Downing Street to arrange a meeting.
“I have done everything possible to ensure that this process was handled properly, I am confident that my office doesn’t leak,” he wrote.
“But someone did, could it have been someone within the Government machine who didn’t have the Prime Minister’s best interests at heart?”
In the event, Mrs May survived the vote – held the following day – although more than a third of her MPs voted for her to go.