- Theresa May is under growing pressure to resign as prime minister.
- The majority of her Cabinet reportedly wants the prime minister to announce her departure within weeks.
- The prime minister has lost the confidence of many colleagues because her Brexit deal looks almost certain to be rejected on Tuesday this week, and Downing Street does not appear to have an alternative plan.
LONDON – Theresa May is under growing pressure from her own party to resign as she heads for what is expected to be a series of heavy government defeats this week.
On Tuesday MPs are due to vote on her Brexit deal for a second time after it was previously defeated by a record majority in January. If defeated again, May will then be bound to hold a series of votes that could result in Britain delaying its exit from the EU, currently due to take place at the end of March.
With May’s support in her parliamentary party draining away, reports over the weekend suggest that May has lost the backing of “all but two” Cabinet ministers, who have reportedly discussed whether they should tell her this week to stand down.
As a result, Conservative MPs are putting pressure on May to pull the votes this week in order to avert the defeat and delay to Brexit. However, doing so would be a breach of her own pledge to parliament as well as the terms of a Brexit amendment which was passed by MPs with a majority of 482.
Any refusal to meet these pledges would likely lead to contempt of parliament proceedings and potentially another vote of no confidence in her government.
No ministers have publicly called for May to resign yet. However, former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who May sacked in 2016, became the most prominent figure yet to call for May to stand down when she told BI the Conservatives must think about replacing her “by the end of 2019.” She re-iterated the point at the weekend, telling the BBC that May would likely have to quit if she is defeated again this week.
“Her position is going to be very difficult if the agreement goes down on Tuesday,” Morgan said.
The prime minister has already told colleagues she will not contest the 2022 general election. However, Cabinet ministers now reportedly want her to stand down by July at the latest so that a new leader can negotiate the next steps of Brexit if her deal is rejected for a second time on Tuesday.
May could refuse to quit having seen off an attempt by Conservative MPs to oust her last December. Under Conservative party rules she cannot face another formal challenge until December this year.
The row comes as senior ministers warn that the government is losing control of Brexit. The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday that campaigners against Britain’s exit from the EU were almost two thirds of the way to succeeding and said that any defeat to Brexit would be devastating for May’s government.
Crunch week in the Commons
The growing lack of support for Theresa May is based largely on the belief that she has lost her grip on the direction of Brexit and is no longer capable of leading negotiations.
After her deal was defeated in January by a historic 230-vote margin, she pledged to return to Brussels to secure major changes to the Irish backstop, which many Tory MPs are opposed to because it could lock the UK in an EU customs union indefinitely.
But Downing Street admitted over the weekend that talks in Brussels were “deadlocked” and both sides are so far apart in their demands that it appears unlikely May will be able to secure the changes she is seeking.
That means the question is likely to be how many votes she is defeated by on Tuesday, rather than if the deal will pass through. That will depend on whether the prime minister is able to bring back any concessions at all from Brussels – if she does, some Tory MPs are likely to announce their support for the deal.
If the deal is defeated, the prime minister has promised parliament further votes on Wednesday and Thursday, firstly on whether it supports a no-deal exit, and secondly whether it supports an Article 50 extension and a Brexit delay.
If Downing Street tries to whip MPs to support no deal, the prime minister can expect multiple resignations from ministers who are determined to avoid such an outcome.
“I would find it very difficult, actually impossible to be part of a policy that was pursuing actively no-deal,” public health minister Steve Brine told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.
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