Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Last days of May? UK leader in peril as Brexit offer slammed

Published:Thursday | May 23, 2019 | 12:11 AM
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers Questions in Parliament in London yesterday.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers Questions in Parliament in London yesterday.


British Prime Minister Theresa May dug in yesterday against a growing push by both rivals and former allies to remove her from office as her attempts to lead Britain out of the European Union appeared to be headed for a dead end.

May resisted calls to rip up her tattered Brexit blueprint and end her embattled premiership after her attempt at compromise was rejected by both her own Conservative Party and opposition lawmakers.

There was a feverish atmosphere in Parliament, as Conservative backbenchers met in private to discuss a leadership challenge, and expectations were rising that May could be forced to announce her departure within hours or days.

Lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, a leading Conservative moderate, said the only chance of delivering an orderly Brexit was for May “to go – and without delay.”

“She must announce her resignation after Thursday’s European elections. And the Conservative Party must fast-track the leadership process to replace her,” he wrote in the Financial Times.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said there were rumours that more ministers were seeking meetings to express unhappiness with her Brexit plan – and possibly urge her to quit.

May’s spokesman, James Slack, said he was “not aware of any discussions” with Cabinet colleagues.

hostile questions

In the House of Commons, May received a flurry of criticism and hostile questions as she implored lawmakers to support a bill implementing Britain’s departure from the EU that she plans to put to a vote in Parliament in June.

Nearly three years after British voters opted to leave the EU, May said “we need to see Brexit through, to honour the result of the referendum and to deliver the change the British people so clearly demanded”.

If Parliament rejected her deal, she said, “all we have before us is division and deadlock”.

That could serve as a fair summary of Britain’s current situation.

Lawmakers have already rejected May’s divorce deal with the 27 other EU countries on three occasions, and Britain’s long-scheduled departure date of March 29 passed with the country still in the bloc.

In a last-ditch bid to secure support for her Brexit plan, May on Tuesday announced concessions, including a promise to give Parliament a vote on whether to hold a new referendum on Britain’s EU membership – something she has long ruled out.

“I have compromised. Now I ask you to compromise, too,” she said.

But there was little sign her plea was being heeded. Pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers have only hardened their positions during months of political trench warfare, and they are in no mood to compromise.

Pro-Brexit Conservatives accused May of capitulating to pro-EU demands, and opposition Labour Party lawmakers dismissed her offer as too little, too late.

“The rhetoric may have changed but the deal has not,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “She did not seek a compromise until after she had missed her own deadline to leave, and by the time she finally did, she had lost the authority to deliver.”

May’s authority as Conservative leader has been shredded by her loss of the party’s parliamentary majority in a 2017 election and her failure to lead Britain out of the EU as promised.

The party’s powerful anti-EU wing wants to oust May and replace her with a staunch Brexit supporter such as Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary.

May has said she will announce a timetable for her departure once Parliament has voted on her Brexit bill. But with defeat of that bill looking highly likely, a growing number of Conservatives are pressing her to cancel the vote and quit even sooner.

May survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative lawmakers in December, leaving her safe from challenge for 12 months under party rules.