LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May battled on Monday to keep control of Britain’s exit from the European Union as some in her party called on her to quit and parliament plotted to wrest Brexit away from the government.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at church, near High Wycombe, Britain March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
At one of the most important junctures for the country in at least a generation, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 EU membership referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will take place.
With May humiliated and weakened, ministers lined up to insist she was still in charge and to deny any part in, or knowledge of, a reported plot to demand she name a date to leave office at a cabinet meeting which started at 1000 GMT on Monday.
“Time’s up, Theresa,” Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper said in a front page editorial. It said her one chance of getting her Brexit deal approved by parliament was to name a date for her departure.
Some lawmakers publicly called for May to go.
“I hope that the cabinet will tell the prime minister the game is up,” Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker who supports Brexit, told Sky News.
“The prime minister does not have the confidence of the parliamentary party. She clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the cabinet and she certainly doesn’t have the confidence of our members out there in the country,” he said.
Days before the original exit date of March 29, British ministers and lawmakers were still publicly discussing an array of options including leaving with May’s deal, with no deal, revoking the Article 50 divorce papers, calling another referendum or going for a closer relationship with the EU.
May had to delay that departure date due to the political deadlock in London. Now Britain will leave on May 22 if her deal is approved by parliament. If not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty.
The EU believes a no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely, EU officials said.
TURMOIL IN LONDON
The United Kingdom, which voted 52-48 percent to leave the EU in the referendum, remains deeply divided over Brexit.
Just 24 hours after hundreds of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday to demand another referendum, May called rebel lawmakers to her Chequers residence on Sunday in an attempt to break the deadlock.
“The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a meaningful vote (for her deal) this week,” a spokesman for May’s Downing Street office said.
Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker attended along with ministers David Lidington and Michael Gove who had been reportedly lined up as caretaker prime ministers. They were forced on Sunday to deny they wanted May’s job.
May told the lawmakers she would quit if they voted for her twice-defeated European Union divorce deal, ITV news said.
But there was also concern May could pivot to a no-deal Brexit as the only way to survive in power.
As speculation swirled around May’s future, parliament prepared to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on possible ways forward at around 2200 GMT. Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin’s amendment seeks to change the rules of parliament on March 27 in order to provide time for lawmakers to debate and vote on different options.
Speaker John Bercow will announce at the start of the debate, around 1530 GMT, if he has selected any amendments to be voted on.
One way to counter parliament would be for May to try to offer her own version of indicative votes. The prospect of a softer Brexit would also increase pressure on the Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her own party to get behind her deal.
The deal May negotiated with the EU was defeated in parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15.
To get it passed, she must win over at least 75 MPs – dozens of rebels in her Conservative Party, some opposition Labour Party MPs and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.
Additional reporting by Kate Holton, William Schomberg, David Milliken and Andrew MacAskill; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Janet Lawrence