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Conservative MP calls on May to quit

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street, London, to travel to the Palace of Westminster ahead of MPs debating Brexit. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 12, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

By Andrew Woodcock and Jenny McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff

A senior Conservative backbencher has called on Theresa May to announce her resignation to allow a contest to choose her replacement to begin "straight away".

Nigel Evans, the joint executive secretary of the backbench Tory 1922 Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that calls for the Prime Minister's removal had become a "clamour" and he would be "delighted" if she announced plans to quit today.

His comments came as Mrs May prepared to chair a meeting of her top ministerial team as MPs return to Westminster following the Easter break.

The Prime Minister convened her Cabinet on Tuesday morning as cross-party talks between the Government and the Labour Party were set to resume in a fresh bid to break the Brexit impasse.

Ministerial discussions are expected in the afternoon, with Mrs May's de facto deputy David Lidington, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and chief whip Julian Smith representing the Government.

Elsewhere, Change UK - the Independent Group is launching its European election campaign in Bristol, and Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is unveiling its latest tranche of candidates in London.

Ribble Valley MP Mr Evans told Today he had reflected on the situation over the Easter break and said the "severe problems" over Brexit meant Mrs May had to go "as soon as possible".

He said: "I hope she does accept the fact the call for her resignation now is growing into a clamour."

And he added: "To be honest, I would be delighted if she announced today she was announcing her resignation and we could then have an orderly election to choose a new leader of the Conservative Party."

But prisons minister Rory Stewart backed Mrs May as "our best hope" of resolving Brexit.

He told Today that "the problem is not the Prime Minister, the problem is Brexit".

Mr Stewart said: "I think she is doing a very, very important job and she needs to get the first stage of Brexit done...

"The idea somehow that some new, fresh leader with extraordinary charm and nimble feet would be able to suddenly get the deal across the line is mistaken.

"It's nothing to do with the individual, it is that people disagree deeply over Brexit."

On Monday, it emerged the PM could face an unprecedented vote of confidence in her leadership after 70 local Conservative association chiefs signed a petition in support of a poll.

They called for an extraordinary general meeting of the National Conservative Convention to discuss the Prime Minister's leadership of the party, The Telegraph reported.

A non-binding vote is expected to be held at the meeting, which would - if it showed a lack of confidence - put pressure on the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs to find a way of forcibly removing the PM from office.

Mrs May has come under heavy criticism for her handling of the Brexit process, but survived a vote of confidence by her MPs in December.

Under party rules, a year has to pass before another vote can be called, but an extraordinary general meeting must be held if more than 65 local associations demand one through a petition, the paper said.

Elsewhere, a new poll found former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is the favourite to replace Mrs May as Conservative leader among the party's grassroots.

Almost a third of party members - 32.4% - backed the pro-Brexit Tory to take over the helm of the party, up by 10 points in the last month.

Ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was second with 14.7%, according to the poll of 1,128 panel members by the Conservative Home website.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who also supported the Leave campaign, came third, ahead of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

Pic by Steve Parsons/PA Wire