And now, the end is near...
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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday May 23 2019
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
And now, the end is near, so she'll face the final curtain,

Through it all, when there was doubt, she ate it up and spit it out

She faced it all and she stood tall.

The record shows she took the blows, and did it May’s way.

LISTEN: Catch me every weekday morning giving a sneak preview of what's coming up in Red Box at 7.30am with Julia Hartley-Brewer at breakfast on TalkRadio. Listen here
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
The briefing
  • Hurrah! It’s European Parliament election day! The we thought would never come! The day which was supposed to never come!

  • Pressure mounts on Theresa May to jump before she is pushed, although Downing Street insiders are this morning playing down talk that she could announcement her resignation tomorrow. Who knows what’s going on, frankly.

  • Election broadcasting rules mean that if May had quit today, TV and radio bulletins would have been curtailed in reporting it.

  • With Andrea Leadsom quitting as Commons leader, it will fall to whip Mark Spencer to make his dispatch box debut this morning and announce the forthcoming business. Whatever that might be.

  • President Trump is said to be “oblivious” to Theresa May’s political woes and cares only about his meeting with the Queen.

  • George Osborne, who three years ago was the Conservative chancellor and political strategist, celebrates his 48th birthday by urging readers of his Evening Standard to vote for the Lib Dems.

  • Boris Johnson is selling his grade II listed marital home in Islington for £3.75 million as he prepares to officially announce a leadership campaign. With exquisite timing, a private prosecution against him for the alleged offence of misconduct in public office over his use of the £350 million figure on the side of his bus comes before Westminster magistrates court today.

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg’s book The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain is published today. If you haven’t read AN Wilson’s excoriating Times review, you must. And if you have, just read it again.

  • Today’s trivia question: How many Tory MPs voted for Andrea Leadsom in the second ballot of the 2016 leadership contest, putting her into the final two? Answer at the bottom of today's email
Red Box: Comment
Nicky Morgan
The game is up, prime minister. Let someone else take on Brexit
Nicky Morgan – Conservative MP
The mother of all resignations
So it ends as it began. It was a resignation by Andrea Leadsom that put Theresa May into No 10, and it is another that finally, after so many near misses, will take her out.

When Leadsom dropped out of the race to be Tory leader in 2016, after telling The Times’s Rachel Sylvester that “being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country”, she could have been petulant and resentful.

Instead she became one of May’s greatest supporters, defending her and her dismal Brexit efforts until the bitter end. Well, almost.

Yesterday Leadsom realised that she could do it no longer. So she picked up her phone, scrolled to the PM’s number, and pressed "call". She was surprised when May herself quickly picked up. They chatted for a short while. No anger, only sadness and regret on both sides.

Leadsom made clear that she was not willing to stand up in the Commons this morning and lay out the timetable for a withdrawal agreement bill that she could not support, claiming that it failed to deliver on the referendum result. May asked her to stay. Leadsom made clear that she could not.

“No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have,” Leadsom said, sincerely, in her resignation letter. “But I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this government and our party.”

In response May said that she had “valued the frank and productive discussions we have had over the last three years”, adding: "I am sorry to lose someone of your passion, drive and sincerity from HM Government in this way."

There was warmth even as they disagreed on the merits of just contemplating a second referendum, or whether May’s “tolerance” of Remainers in cabinet had, as Leadsom claimed, “led to a complete breakdown of collective responsibility”.

For a prime minister with few actual friends, Leadsom had become a close ally, who chose face-to-face robust debate over backroom briefing. That she stuck with this mess for so long when so many others, so many men, walked away to be carried aloft by the Brexit purists says much about Leadsom’s character.

That she also managed, against the backdrop of a non-existent government, to drive forward efforts to repair parliament before it burns down and protect the people who work there from bullying and harassment should also not go unnoticed.

She also, of course, gave us one of the great moments of Commons drama in recent years, challenging John Bercow from the dispatch box: “Why it is that, when an opposition member found that you had called me a stupid woman, you did not apologise in this Chamber?” The combination of courage, deadpan delivery and the chaos that erupted soon after will live long in the memory.

Getting out now, on a point of Brexit principle, will do her leadership chances no harm. In the year since Boris Johnson qui his stock amongst Tory members has risen sharply, adding ten percentage points to his tally of those who think that he is up to the job, competent, strong and competent. The official launch of Leadsom4Leader Mark II is yet to be confirmed but she intends to keep a date speaking at a press gallery lunch on June 11. This is not the last we have seen of her.

And so Leadsom becomes the 36th minister to quit May’s government. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not normal.

It could perhaps have been worse. Earlier in the day first David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, and then Sajid Javid, the home secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, demanded meetings with the PM to warn her against allowing for a vote on a second referendum.

There was fury that this was not what the cabinet had agreed on Tuesday. But anger, too, that having put so much stall on her commitment to the union that this final stance crumbled too. Even countenancing a second vote on EU membership undermined every argument against allowing the SNP another go at Scottish independence.

As the insurrection grew, May simply refused to meet her cabinet mutineers, heading instead for her weekly audience with the Queen before barricading herself inside Downing Street. One way to stop people telling you to resign is to avoid them altogether.

But at least it will be over soon. May is widely expected to announce her departure date tomorrow, after today’s European parliament elections, though this is not confirmed.

Several Tory MPs I spoke to yesterday suggested that she must carry the can for the dreadful results expected on Sunday night in a way that she should have done after the general election two years ago.

The 1922 Committee’s executive did not formally change the rules last night to allow a new confidence vote in May but it later emerged that the group had voted on whether to change the rules. According to ITV, they each placed their votes in a sealed envelope and will open and count them only if May does not tell Sir Graham Brady tomorrow that she is stepping down.

And then she will stay on while a leadership contest, lasting perhaps six weeks, takes place. Being a lame duck prime minister, in office but not in power, while her colleagues tear her and each other apart, will be a grim though not unfamiliar experience.

For now, though, and perhaps for only another 24 hours more, Theresa May clings on, obviously.
Chart of the day
The Sketch
Hapless creature sees off the executioner for now
Quentin Letts
Quentin Letts
Just after 6.20pm, Mark Pritchard (C, The Wrekin) stomped out of the committee-corridor room where Tory backbenchers had been told Theresa May would continue as leader for another day or so. “Jellyfish!” said Mr Pritchard. “Jellyfish” has the advantage, as a noun, of being singular and plural. Was he referring to Mrs May, one of life’s more insistent floaters? Or was he talking about the fearties of the 1922 Committee’s executive who had once again failed to euthanase her leadership? I would have sought closer particulars but Mr Pritchard, steaming fast, was already a distant mark on the horizon.
Read the full sketch >
Red Box: Comment
Henry Newman
Brexit is redrawing the political battle lines
Henry Newman – Open Europe
I asked if you agreed with Theresa May that “it is a great time to be alive”. Only three in ten did. Full result here
Have your say
I asked what Theresa May was doing wrong.

Philip Hall: “Attempting to compromise on a binary choice, or, as the man says in Sweet Home Alabama, 'You can't ride two horses with one ass, sugarbean'.”

Carolyn McCrae:
“Refusing to accept (something that was obvious when she was home secretary) that she is not a leader and she simply cannot communicate with anyone, on any level, about anything.”

Kim Golding: “Still trying to be prime minister.”

TODAY: What would you get Theresa May as a leaving present? Email and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
David Aaronovitch
Lib Dem revival is more luck than judgment
David Aaronovitch – The Times
James Marriott
We assumed posh Rees-Mogg was clever but he’s no intellectual
James Marriott – The Times
Janice Turner
Crumbs, we didn’t waste our money on the birds
Janice Turner – The Times
Andrea Leadsom's defection reflects how toxic May has become
Katy Balls - The Guardian
A new prime minister intent on no-deal Brexit can't be stopped by MPs
Maddy Thimont Jack - Institute for Government
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Peter Brookes
Here we go...
They are the elections that were never supposed to happen, and now they spell disaster for the two main parties. The UK goes to the polls for the European parliament elections (do remember to vote, polling stations close at 10pm), with everyone expecting the Brexit Party to win and Labour and the Lib Dems caught in a battle for second.

This graphic by my Times colleague Daniel Clark shows how the Tories and Labour are shedding votes to other parties, while the Lib Dems are on the up.

Remember, the results won’t come until Sunday night, after the rest of Europe has voted.

YouGov’s Matthew Smith writes for Red Box that more than half of voters think that today’s elections are important. Matt Singh, from Number Cruncher Politics, says that voters are split down the middle over what the point of these elections is.

This morning Jeremy Corbyn released a video message warning that "the far-right is on the rise" and that Britain is "at a crossroads".

One final push from Change UK to confirm their reputation as Britain’s smallest but most chaotic political party: Heidi Allen, the interim leader, has said that she threatened to quit in a row over whether to urge supporters to vote tactically and back the Liberal Democrats.

Of course, these elections are happening right across the EU: here is what to look out for in 10 key countries.

Britain’s European election results are set to add to a major surge by populists across Europe, leading to political deadlock over top EU jobs and increasing the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

Suits spattered with milkshake, rape threats masquerading as humour, the helpless perplexity of the mainstream parties: when Germany looks at Britain’s preparations for today’s European election it does not like what it sees.
Red Box: Comment
Matthew Smith
How important are the European parliament elections?
Matthew Smith – YouGov
Need to know
STEEL WAITING: Ministers held the door open to nationalising British Steel yesterday after the company was placed into liquidation, putting 25,000 jobs at risk. (The Times)

Labour’s deputy leader, was in a group backing a former NHS manager accused of fabricating claims of murder, rape and torture by an establishment paedophile ring, a court was told. (The Times)

Maths and physics teachers will be given an additional £2,000 a year to work in deprived or remote areas as the government seeks to overcome a recruitment and retention crisis. (The Times)

AUSTERITY COMPLAINT: The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, plans to lodge a formal complaint with the UN about the damning report on austerity in Britain by its special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. (The Guardian)

FIDDLING EXPENSES: A whistleblower has revealed the full scale of expenses fiddling by a Conservative MP who faces being removed from parliament by his constituents. (The Independent)
Red Box: Comment
Josh Williams
Climate change is not toxic to an election campaign, a badly told story is
Josh Williams – Speechwriter
Now read this
Layla Moran, her boyfriend, and a slap that haunts her
Layla Moran was in the running to lead the Liberal Democrats when an incident from her past was trawled up.

Amid swirling rumours, Moran admitted to having slapped her then boyfriend in a row over a computer (rather than Vince) cable at a party gathering in Glasgow in 2013. Both were arrested, although neither was charged. The political world affected to be outraged, or else above such trivia. In private some laughed a little at the thought of the meek Liberal Democrats indulging in a bit of when-Sally-slaps-Harry action.

In an interview in Times2 Moran says: “Yes, in that room, I did slap him, but it wasn’t unprovoked. I’d never done it before. I’ve never done it again. It was just a horrible thing to admit to and, apart from anything else, it was just embarrassing.”
Read the full story >
From the diary
By Patrick Kidd
Hancock spad is crafty mover
If politics were a game of chess, Theresa May has reached zugzwang, a situation where any move you make will weaken your position. The expression may be lost on most of the pawns in her cabinet but one has a zugzwang maestro on his side. Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, special adviser to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, never travels without a chess board and is always up for a game. He recently dispatched Jeremy Corbyn’s head of strategic communications and says that the only person to have beaten him in Westminster is the political columnist Dominic Lawson. He honed his craft during a spell in New York, where he used to hustle in Union Square. He once made $90 in 45 minutes playing chess. That’s always an option if politics doesn’t work out.
Read more from the TMS diary >
The agenda
  • UK voters elect members of the European parliament.
  • Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, attends the Nato Cyber Defence Pledge conference.
  • Matt Hancock, the health secretary, speaks at a King's Fund event.
  • Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is in Paris.
  • Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Public and Commercial Services Union annual conference.
  • The Royal Society for Public Health publishes Taking the P***: the decline of the great British public toilet.
House of Commons
  • 9.30am Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions.
  • Attorney general questions.
  • Business questions.
  • Backbench business: Yemen peace process.
  • Matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
  • Adjournment: Excessive speeding and driving bans.
House of Lords
  • 11am Questions on sponsoring research into the benefits of gaming for children’s mental health and wellbeing; whether the threat of prosecutions under the Suicide Act 1961 is causing suffering to mentally competent, terminally ill people at the end of their lives; ensuring that museums and galleries remain accessible to the public; and the powers available to the Electoral Commission to deal with breaches of spending rules for referendums and elections.
  • Debate: Potential conflict between the right of members to speak freely in parliament and the obligation under the rule of law to obey court orders.
  • Debate: Increasing the social value of public procurement by aligning it with Her Majesty’s Government’s civil society strategy.
Today's trivia answer
84 Tory MPs voted for Andrea Leadsom in the second ballot. Theresa May got 199 and Michael Gove 46.

Apologies about yesterday's question. It seems the d'Hondt system is also used for some seats in the Welsh Assembly, and councils in Northern Ireland.

Send your trivia to
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