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Brexit and the leadership challenge explained

Posted by Lotty Reeves on 15th November 2018

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, has announced that he has received at least 48 letters from Conservative MP’s, triggering a vote of no confidence in the leader which will be held today.  The Prime Minister will get the chance to speak to backbench MP’s at 5pm today and the secret ballot will be held between 6pm – 8pm with the results announced shortly afterwards.

What happens in a Conservative Party leadership challenge?

In order for a vote (or as more commonly referred to a leadership challenge) to be triggered 15% of the Conservative Party’s MP’s need to write letters demanding a confidence vote to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench MP’s (those without government jobs).

The Conservative Party has 315 MP’s, so 48 MP’s would need to write such letters for a vote of no confidence to be held. The only person who knows how many letters have been submitted at any given time is the chairman of the 1922 Committee, currently Sir Graham Brady. MP’s are able to withdraw any letters they have submitted before it reaches the required threshold of 48 letters.

What happens once a confidence vote had been triggered?

Under Conservative Party rules, the vote is held as soon as possible, on a date to be determined by the 1922 Committee chairman in consultation with the party leader. The last vote of no confidence, back in 2003, was held the day after the committee chairman announced he had received enough letters. 

During the vote, each Conservative MP gets to vote either for or against the Prime Minister in a secret ballot. In order for Theresa May to win the confidence vote she needs a simple majority to vote for her – so half of her MP’s plus one. If 158 Conservative MP’s vote for the Prime Minister, she will remain in office and cannot be challenged for another 12 months.

If, however, the Prime Minister loses the confidence vote she must resign as party leader, and therefore as Prime Minister (but she would probably stay as Prime Minister until a successor has been chosen).

A leadership contest will be held to decide her replacement, with Mrs May being barred from standing in the contest. In order to stand in the leadership contest, any candidate must get the backing of at least 15% of the party’s MP’s. If there are more than two candidates, a secret vote will be held among the party’s MP’s to whittle down the field. The candidate with the fewest votes is removed and MP’s vote again. This process is repeated until only two candidates remain, who then go to a postal vote of the party’s members. The candidate with the most votes wins and becomes the next party leader and Prime Minister.   

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