Theresa May will still be prime minister for the visit of Donald Trump on 3 June, one of her most senior ministers has predicted.
Despite her clinging on to her premiership in the face of furious Conservative MPs demanding her resignation, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted Mrs May will still be in Downing Street for the US president’s visit.
He said: “Theresa May will be prime minister to welcome him and rightly so.”
On Wednesday, Mrs May was granted some relief after senior Tories decided not to immediately change party rules that could have forced her imminent departure.
But she suffered another serious blow to her survival hopes when Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom quit the cabinet.
Ms Leadsom said she could not support Mrs May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which she had been due to present to the House of Commons today.
Mr Hunt is understood to be among other remaining cabinet ministers wanting to see the prime minister over the Brexit legislation, but remained tight-lipped over what they would discuss at a meeting this afternoon.
He added: “All discussions between foreign secretary and the prime minister should remain confidential and I’m not going to change that this morning.”
Backbench Tories of the 1922 committee held a crunch meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether they could speed up the process of selecting a new leader, with the chief whip rushing in and out of meetings with them and Number 10.
Ministers were said to be at “tipping point” over their willingness to support Mrs May, who has promised she will lay out a timetable for her resignation next month but is keen to avoid a mutinous end to her time in charge.
The committee met after Commons leader Ms Leadsom became the 36th minister to resign under Mrs May.
Her move was tinged with irony as it was Ms Leadsom’s departure from the last Tory leadership race in 2016 that handed Mrs May victory.
She pulled out after a backlash over a newspaper interview where she appeared to suggest she was better suited to the job because she was a mother.
Asked if she could follow Ms Leadsom in quitting the cabinet, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt told reporters on Thursday morning: “I’ve given my advice to Number 10 and today I’m going to be getting on with my job which is to keep the country safe and to look after our armed forces.”
Swathes of fellow Tory MPs are already demanding the prime minister quit even earlier than planned – and it was open warfare during PMQs as an isolated Mrs May, stood among empty seats on her backbenches and her front bench, was challenged angrily by her own side over several issues.
There was no wall of noise when she arrived in the chamber, even less when she stood to speak, and Labour MPs sat quietly to watch a party usually so good at keeping rivalries behind closed doors openly tear itself to pieces.
Frustration spilled over after a newspaper article suggested Mrs May blocked a chance to ensure British soldiers serving in Northern Ireland would not be prosecuted.
Impassioned responses were met with calm explanation, until the prime minister finally cracked and snapped back at Tory MP Johnny Mercer that her thoughts on the matter should be blatantly obvious by now.
Despite all the anger, the decision of the 1922 committee has provided yet another lifeline for the prime minister, who will meet with the group chairman Sir Graham Brady on Friday.
The executive of the 1922 committee held a ballot on Wednesday on whether to change Tory party rules to allow Mrs May to soon face another confidence vote among MPs, despite her having survived one last December.
The vote results will be held in sealed envelopes to be opened on Friday if Mrs May doesn’t announce her departure date at her meeting with Sir Graham.
Treasurer of the 1922 committee, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, told the Press Association: “I want her to give a timetable for when she will go.”
Asked what would happen if Mrs May did not announce a resignation date, he added: “I think there will be overwhelming pressure for the ’22 to change the rules and hold a ballot on confidence in the prime minister.”
One MP compared Mrs May’s reluctance to resign immediately to putting a sofa up against the door.
Demands by cabinet ministers for meetings with the prime minister have been shunned, as sources said she might consider talking to her foreign secretary on Thursday.
Another usually loyal MP, chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat, came out publicly to demand she quit, while a junior minister told Sky News: “I just can’t trust her anymore.”