Fri | Jul 10, 2020

Allies rally to UK’s May amid leadership woes over Brexit

Published:Friday | November 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM
British Prime Minister Theresa May


British Prime Minister Theresa May won support for her beleaguered Brexit deal Friday from key politicians and business groups, but she remained besieged by internal party opponents determined to oust her.

In a tumultuous week, May finally clinched a divorce deal with the European Union - only for it to be savaged by the political opposition, her parliamentary allies, and large chunks of her own Conservative Party. Two Cabinet ministers and a handful of junior government members resigned, and grumbles about her leadership erupted into

a roar.

Friday brought some respite as supportive Cabinet ministers rallied around her. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a prominent pro-Brexit voice in Cabinet, threw May a lifeline by urging rebels to "take a rational and reasonable view of this".

"Ultimately, I hope that across Parliament, we'll recognise that a deal is better than no deal," he said.

Britain's Conservatives have been divided for decades over Britain's membership in the EU, and the draft withdrawal agreement has infuriated the most strongly pro-Brexit members, who want the country to make a clean break with the bloc. They say the draft agreement, which calls for close trade ties between the UK and the EU, would leave Britain a vassal state, bound to rules it has no say in making.

The deal drove a group of disaffected Brexiteers to try to topple May by submitting letters saying they had lost confidence in her leadership. They are aiming for the magic number of 48 the 15 per cent of Conservative lawmakers needed to trigger a challenge to her leadership under party rules.

After a day of conflicting rumors about whether 48 letters had been sent, leading Brexiteer Steve Baker said, "I think we're very close."

He suggested that the threshold might be reached "sometime next week".




If May lost her job as party leader, she would also lose her position as prime minister. But winning a leadership vote could strengthen her position because the rules say she can't be challenged again for a year.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, one of May's chief allies, predicted that "if it does come to a challenge, the prime minister will win handsomely".

"I've seen no plausible alternative plan from any of those criticising her or wanting to challenge her position," Lidington said.

May got another piece of good news when Environment Secretary Michael Gove decided not to follow two Cabinet colleagues and quit over the divorce deal.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey quit on Thursday, saying that they could not support the agreement. Like them, Gove was a strong supporter of the "leave" campaign in Britain's 2016 EU membership referendum.

Gove said on Friday that he "absolutely" had confidence in May, adding that he would work with government colleagues to achieve "the best future for Britain". But he did not answer when asked if he supported May's Brexit deal.