British Prime Minister Theresa May battled for her political survival yesterday as four ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her over a draft Brexit deal struck with Brussels this week.
May tried to defend her draft Brexit deal before a hostile parliament after two cabinet ministers Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and two junior ministers, Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara quit the government.
May insisted that her proposed European Union withdrawal agreement was the best deal Britain could hope to strike when it leaves the European Union on March 29, warning that the only alternatives were leaving with no deal or not leaving at all.
May had secured her cabinet’s collective approval for the agreement during a five-hour meeting on Wednesday. But she accepted that delivering Brexit involved difficult choices all round. “I do not pretend that this has been a comfortable process or that either we or the EU are entirely happy,” she said.
But members of parliament on all sides told her that there was no way it could pass their approval, with arch-Brexiteers and EU loyalists alike insisting it was already sunk. As she spoke, the European Research Group of Brexit hardliners met in a parliamentary committee room to plot her removal.
ERG chief Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister saying that “it would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside”. At least 48 such letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader, but a majority of the party’s 315 lawmakers would have to vote against May in order for her to be ousted.
Amid the political turmoil, the pound plunged on currency markets. May went into battle after Dominic Raab resigned as the Brexit secretary over the draft deal, while a second cabinet minister and two junior government ministers also walked out.
She faced a barrage of exceptionally hostile questions from MPs, not only from the opposition but from her own Conservative backbenchers. “If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead,” May told lawmakers.
“The British people want us to get this done. The course is clear: we can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated.”
EU leaders will hold an extraordinary Brexit summit on November 25. If they approve the agreement, the British parliament is scheduled to vote on it in early December. But MPs lined up to tell May that it could not pass, Brexit hardliners who see the deal as conceding too much to Brussels, to EU supporters, several of whom called during Thursday’s session for a second referendum.