March 25, 2019 07:34:23
Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to win over adversaries to her Brexit withdrawal plan as key Cabinet ministers deny media reports they are plotting to oust her.
- Under party rules Mrs May cannot face another leadership challenge until December
- But she may be persuaded by Cabinet ministers and party figures that her position is untenable
- Possible successors have publicly expressed strong support for the Prime Minister
Mrs May held a crisis meeting at her country residence Chequers with outspoken Brexit advocates Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others who would prefer to leave the European Union without a divorce deal rather than delay Britain’s departure from the bloc further.
She has found her authority weakened after a series of setbacks in Parliament and her inability to win meaningful concessions from EU leaders who refuse to sweeten the Brexit deal.
The Sunday Times reported that 11 Cabinet ministers plan to tell Mrs May to resign so a caretaker leader can be put in her place to kickstart the stalled Brexit process.
She faces growing pressure from within her own party either to resign or to set a date for stepping down as a way to build support for her Brexit plan.
The confrontation may come to a head at a Cabinet session expected on Monday, local time.
Under Conservative Party rules, Mrs May cannot face a formal leadership challenge from within her own party until December because she survived one three months ago.
But she may be persuaded that her position is untenable if top Cabinet ministers and other senior party members desert her.
Despite headlines about a Cabinet coup, there was no indication from Downing Street on Sunday that a resignation was near.
Two of the people mentioned as possible successors — Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington and Treasury chief Philip Hammond — expressed strong support for Mrs May.
Mr Hammond said senior party members plotting to oust Mrs May were being “self-indulgent”.
He said a change of leadership would not provide a solution to the UK’s political deadlock on Brexit.
“We’ve got to address the question of what type of Brexit is acceptable to Parliament, what type of way forward Parliament can agree on so that we can avoid what would be an economic catastrophe of a no-deal exit and also what would be a very big challenge to confidence in our political system if we didn’t exit at all,” Mr Hammond said.
Mr Lidington, mentioned as a possible caretaker prime minister should Mrs May be ousted, said talk of a Cabinet revolt was far-fetched speculation.
He said Mrs May was doing a “fantastic job” and that he had no desire to take her place.
Brexit plan may be brought back to Parliament a third time
Still, Mrs May has been unable to generate enough support in Parliament for the deal her Government and the EU reached late last year.
MPs voted down the Brexit plan twice, and Mrs May has raised the possibility of bringing it back a third time if enough legislators appear willing to switch their votes.
The Cabinet is focused on the best way to get Mrs May’s withdrawal plan passed in the House of Commons, Mr Lidington said.
The UK’s departure from the EU was set to take place on March 29, but the absence of an approved divorce agreement prompted Mrs May last week to ask the leaders of the 27 remaining member nations for a postponement.
The leaders agreed to delay Brexit until May 22, on the eve of the EU Parliament elections, if the Prime Minister can persuade Parliament to endorse the twice-rejected agreement.
If she is unable to rally support for the withdrawal agreement, the European leaders said Britain only had until April 12 to choose between leaving the EU without a divorce deal and a new path, such as revoking the decision to leave the bloc, or calling another voter referendum on Brexit.
Parliament may hold a series of votes this week to determine what Brexit proposals, if any, could command majority support.
‘We need a new PM’
Conservative Party legislator George Freeman, a former policy adviser to Mrs May, tweeted that the UK needed a new leader if the Brexit process was to move forward.
“I’m afraid it’s all over for the PM. She’s done her best. But across the country you can see the anger. Everyone feels betrayed,” Mr Freeman tweeted.
“This can’t go on. We need a new PM who can reach out and build some sort of coalition for a Plan B.”
Mrs May also faces pressure from groups demanding a second Brexit referendum.
Huge crowds turned out on Saturday for an anti-Brexit protest march in London, where organisers claimed more than 1 million people attended.
And an electronic petition designed to cancel Brexit altogether passed the 5 million signature mark on Sunday.