Britain's beleaguered plans for an exit from the European Union were plunged into further disarray this morning (December 12th 2018) after Conservative MPs triggered a vote of no-confidence in prime minster Theresa May.
Her party colleagues indicated they had no faith in her leadership after chair of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady received the necessary 48 letters from fellow Tories that would trigger the contest.
Under parliamentary rules, a contest can only be triggered if 15 per cent of Conservative MPs write to the chair of the committee of backbenchers, a scenario that has now played out.
Consequently, a ballot will take place tonight between 18:00 and 20:00 GMT, with votes to be counted immediately afterwards.
It is possible that an announcement will be made by 22:00 GMT and that Mrs May could be out of her prime ministerial job soon afterwards.
Ministers have already warned that a successful leadership challenge is likely to have severe consequences for article 50 relating to Brexit.
Meanwhile, Mrs May vowed in a statement outside 10 Downing Street that she would contest her leadership "with everything I've got", warning that changing Conservative leader now would "put our country's future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it".
"We must and we shall deliver on the referendum vote and seize the opportunities that lie ahead," she added.
Some MPs have spoken out in support of the prime minister, with home secretary Sajid Javid insisting a leadership election is "the last thing our country needs right now" and that it would "be seen as self-indulgent and wrong".
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt made a similar comment and called Mrs May "the best person to make sure we actually leave the EU".
Next, new candidates for Tory leadership must be nominated by two Conservative MPs. If more than one is nominated, a shortlist would be whittled down to two in a series of votes, following which the final pair would go to a postal ballot of all party members.
A timetable for all of this has been estimated at 12 weeks, meaning it is likely to infringe upon the Brexit deadline on March 29th 2019.
Newspapers in Europe have been reacting with incredulity at the news, having already been critical of Mrs May after she postponed the parliamentary vote on the withdrawal deal last week.
The pound has also already declined to another low against the dollar as international markets took in the developments and businesses fear negative impacts on their trading.