Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday held crisis talks with Conservative colleagues as she tries to plot a path through a pivotal week in the Brexit process amid reports her leadership is under imminent threat.
Ensconced at her country residence Chequers, the embattled premier must decide when, or even if, to ask MPs to vote again on her unpopular EU divorce deal which they have already overwhelmingly rejected twice.
She is also confronted with the prospect of lawmakers seizing control of House of Commons procedures in order to hold a series of so-called “indicative votes” to reveal what support exists for other options.
It follows May securing at a European Union summit this week a delay to Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure for at least three weeks to get her agreement approved or find a viable alternative.
“The prime minister is speaking to her colleagues this weekend,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said yesterday, declining to confirm reports she would hold an afternoon summit with leading Brexiteer MPs outside government.
After a particularly chaotic week even for May’s crisis-plagued tenure — during which she made an ill-judged attack on MPs’ intransigence on her plan — speculation is rife that Conservatives are preparing to force her to resign.
The Sunday Times reported she was “at the mercy of a full-blown Cabinet coup”, with plans afoot for her de facto deputy David Lidington to take over in a caretaker capacity.
The newspaper said it had spoken to 11 senior ministers who “confirmed that they wanted the prime minister to make way for someone else” and planned to confront her at a Cabinet meeting today.
The Mail on Sunday said May could be ousted “within days” and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a prominent Brexiteer, could take over as interim leader.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond yesterday criticised the plotters, arguing it would be “self-indulgent” to try to switch leader.
“Changing the players doesn’t solve the problem,” he told Sky News. “We’ve got to resolve this issue.”
The parliament, and Cabinet, has been deadlocked for months over Brexit, with lawmakers unable to decide how to implement the 2016 referendum vote to leave, reflecting bitter divisions nationwide.
On Saturday, organisers estimated 1mn pro-Europeans marched through central London demanding another public vote on leaving the bloc.
Following the agreement with the EU to postpone Brexit — which MPs must still vote into British law next week — the path forward still remains highly uncertain.
If May’s deal finally wins MPs’ backing Britain will leave the EU on May 22 under the terms she struck with the bloc last year.
If it is not passed in the coming weeks London must outline a new plan or face a no-deal Brexit as early as April 12.
A request then for another, likely lengthy, extension would require holding European Parliament elections in May.
The prime minister and Brexiteers have decried the prospect, saying it would be unfair to the narrow majority of Britons who voted to leave the bloc in 2016.
May has told MPs she will only bring back her deal for another vote if there are signs of “sufficient support”. But with her parliamentary allies the Democratic Unionist Party indicating on Friday that they remain opposed to her plan, that appears unlikely.
“It’s looking very difficult to bring together a majority for it,” Hammond conceded to the BBC.
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