May 22, 2019 / 10:39 AM / in 2 months

Explainer: Can anyone force British PM May to resign?

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing widespread pressure to quit but can her lawmakers actually force her from office?

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May drinks water while delivering a speech on Brexit in London, Britain May 21, 2019. Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool via REUTERS

May has already promised she will resign to let someone else negotiate Britain’s future relationship with the EU and has agreed to set out the timetable for her departure after putting her exit deal to another vote in parliament early next month.

But an attempt to relaunch her European Union divorce deal with sweeteners aimed at winning over skeptics in her own party and opponents has been loudly criticized.

Some Conservative lawmakers now say there is no point delaying her exit, but can the party force her to go sooner than she wants to?


Conservative Members of Parliament cannot use the party’s formal process to challenge May until December because they tried and failed to oust her in December 2018.

The rules of the process state that May is immune to further challenge for 12 months from the date of any failed leadership challenge.

It is possible for the committee which represents Conservative lawmakers - known as the 1922 Committee - to change the rules of the process, but they have so far chosen not to do so.

Nigel Evans, one member of the committee’s executive, said May should make way and he would be pushing for a vote on the issue at a meeting on Wednesday.


Parliament can vote on whether it has confidence in May’s government. If a majority of lawmakers decide they do not, she could be forced to step aside.

After losing a vote of confidence there are 14 days in which she could try to retain power by winning another confidence vote. In this period, the opposition Labour Party can also try to form their own government.

A general election is called if no government with majority support in parliament can be formed after 14 days.

In January this year the government survived a vote of confidence called by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. But there are no rules preventing Labour from calling another one at any time.

To succeed, a handful of Conservative lawmakers or members of the small allied Democratic Unionist Party, would need to either abstain or vote with the opposition to topple the government.

Some pro-Brexit lawmakers have hinted they might be prepared to take this radical step, but it is unclear whether this would materialize in the event of a vote being called.

Losing a confidence vote would not automatically force May to resign as leader of the Conservative Party, but politically it is unlikely she would seek to carry on in the role.


In the absence of a formal route to get rid of May that does not risk a general election, Conservative lawmakers and activists are looking at alternative ways to apply pressure.

May previously said she was not prepared to delay Brexit beyond June 30, but she has now agreed with the EU that Britain could remain a member until the end of October.

These words have been used to make the case that she has to stand down, as have recent heavy losses in local government elections. An expected heavy defeat in European parliament elections this week are also likely to add to this.

Both elected Conservatives and grassroots members are exploring whether there is any way for them to change the party rules to get another shot at ousting May, or whether petitions and no-confidence letters could bring about a change.

Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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