Theresa May has started the countdown to her departure as prime minister, telling senior Conservative MPs she will next month set out a timetable for her resignation and the election of a new party leader.
Mrs May has been under immense pressure to quit and on Thursday she finally bowed to the inevitable, agreeing that she would confirm details of her departure in early June, regardless of whether she secures her Brexit deal.
Hours before Mrs May’s decision, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson confirmed that he would run for the Conservative party leadership; a contest is now expected to take place over the summer with a “coronation” of the new leader at the autumn party conference.
Mrs May told Tory grandees on the backbench 1922 committee in a meeting lasting 90 minutes that she was focused on delivering Brexit and that she was determined to win a crunch vote on the withdrawal agreement bill in the week starting June 3.
But crucially Mrs May told the 1922 executive that whatever happens in that vote — most MPs expect the deal to be rejected for a fourth time — she would immediately set out a timetable for her departure.
A statement issued by Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, on behalf of the executive and Mrs May, said the prime minister was “devoting her efforts” to securing the crucial second reading of the Brexit bill.
But he added: “We have agreed that she and I will meet following the second reading of the bill to agree a timetable for the election of a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist party.”
The outline of the final weeks of Mrs May’s premiership has now become clearer. Tory sources confirmed that if Mrs May loses the vote, now expected on Friday, June 7, she would announce her resignation and instigate a leadership contest.
If she wins a second reading for the withdrawal agreement bill — which will depend on Labour help — Mrs May would try to take the contentious legislation through the Commons with a view to getting it on to the statute book by the end of July.
Mrs May has said she would resign once Brexit legislation was enacted, so the Conservative party now knows that it will be looking for a new leader, and a new prime minister for Britain, over the summer.
The agreement between Mrs May and Sir Graham is intended to remove the prospect of MPs having to prise the prime minister out of Downing Street, possibly by changing party rules to allow a vote of no confidence in her.
It should also head off the humiliation awaiting the prime minister on June 15, when about 800 activists who sit on the party’s national convention were due to hold a non-binding but unprecedented no confidence vote in her.
Mr Johnson confirmed what MPs at Westminster have known for a long time when he said that he would make his second run for the Tory leadership.
Asked at a business event in Manchester if he would be a candidate, Mr Johnson replied: “Of course I’m going to go for it.”
Mr Johnson previously ran for the Tory leadership in 2016, but his campaign self-destructed amid claims that he was not focused on the job in hand.
Environment secretary Michael Gove, who had been running the Johnson campaign, announced his own candidacy on the day his friend was supposed to formally launch his own bid.
If Mrs May does resign before the Commons summer break, starting in July, a leadership contest could run through the summer with a new leader in place for the Tory conference in Manchester starting on September 29.