Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has resigned from the Government with a “heavy heart”, saying she no longer believes its Brexit approach will deliver on the referendum result.
Mrs Leadsom said she was “proud” to have served in Theresa May’s Government since 2016, and had stayed in the Cabinet to “shape and fight for Brexit” despite some “uncomfortable compromises along the way”.
But she said: “I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result.”
Mrs Leadsom said she did not believe that the UK will be “truly sovereign” through the deal proposed, and said a second referendum would be “dangerously divisive”.
She also said there had been “such a breakdown of government processes that recent Brexit-related legislative proposals have not been properly scrutinised or approved by Cabinet members”.
And Mrs Leadsom added: “The tolerance to those in Cabinet who have advocated policies contrary to the Government’s position has led to a complete breakdown of collective responsibility.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Andrea Leadsom has served with distinction and great ability as a member of the Government, and the Prime Minister is grateful for all of her work.
“We are disappointed that she has chosen to resign, and the Prime Minister remains focused on delivering the Brexit people voted for.”
Mrs Leadsom, a leading Brexiteer in the Cabinet, said she resigned ahead of Thursday’s Business Statement to the Commons because she felt she could not announce a Bill with “new elements that I fundamentally oppose”.
“I fully respect the integrity, resolution and determination that you have shown during your time as Prime Minister,” she wrote.
“No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this Government and our party.”
Mrs Leadsom was one of a number of Brexit-supporting colleagues in the so-called Pizza Club who were absent for the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Her resignation came as Mrs May faces growing pressure to quit amid a backlash over her last-ditch effort to get a Brexit deal through.
The Prime Minister will meet Sir Graham Brady, the representative of Tory backbench MPs, on Friday for a meeting which could seal her fate.
She has previously agreed to set out the timetable for the contest to replace her after a crunch vote on her Brexit deal, widely expected on June 7.
That deadline appears to have been brought forward with the announcement she will meet Sir Graham, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, the day after polling day for the European elections, which are expected to be disastrous for the Conservatives.
Sir Graham told reporters: “I will be meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday following her campaigning in the European elections tomorrow and following that meeting I will be consulting with the 1922 executive.”
He said the executive discussed “all sorts of things” in the meeting. The 1922 Committee’s executive had been expected to consider a rule change to allow another attempt to force Mrs May out.
Following the failed bid to oust her in 2018, under the existing rules Mrs May would be safe from another confidence motion until December.
One Tory MP described the outcome of the 1922 Committee meeting as “the can kicked down (the road) until Friday”.
In a sign of unrest at the highest levels of the Tory party, a series of Cabinet ministers asked for meetings with Mrs May to raise their concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) which would put the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan into law.
Downing Street sources said it was possible that the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, but there was no confirmation that an audience would be granted for other ministers with reservations about the plan.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum, after Mrs May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell also has particular concerns because he fears the prospect of another referendum could be “exploited” by the SNP to call for a fresh independence vote.