British Prime Minister Theresa May looked likely to survive any attempt to remove her over her Brexit strategy, but furious lawmakers said she could split her Conservative Party trying to get her plan through parliament.
Despite the resignations of two of her most senior ministers in one day, most of her Conservatives appeared content on Monday evening with a proposal that would keep Britain close to the EU on trade and regulations.
While keeping her government together is key, another critical part of the puzzle is getting the EU side to engage with her plan.
With May looking at a busy week — a NATO summit and hosting US President Donald Trump — she is not out of danger yet.
A handful of lawmakers who want a clean break from the EU said privately they had submitted letters calling for a vote of confidence in May, though they had not met the threshold of 48 needed to trigger such a ballot.
However, should they ultimately do so, the prime minister also looked to have enough support to survive.
May lacks a parliamentary majority, so she can only pass legislation if her party is united or if she borrows support from across the aisle.
On Monday, her office attempted to woo opposition Labour Party lawmakers, a move that outraged dissident Conservatives, who are prepared to vote to block her plan if it comes to the House of Commons unchanged later in the year.
“There is one issue of grave concern and that is that the government has been briefing Labour members of parliament,’’ Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, told reporters.
“If the government plans to get the deal through on the back of Labour Party votes, that would be the most divisive thing it could do, and it would be a split coming from the top,” he added.
It is also not at all clear that it would work. The group of Tories Rees-Mogg speaks for will not support the Brexit plan as it stands, but Labour lawmakers said it is not yet close enough to their position to win their support.
“It’s conceivable that there’s no majority for any deal,” Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson told the BBC yesterday.
If parliament was deadlocked, Britain might need to hold another referendum on leaving the EU, Watson said.
The latest chaos for May unfolded within 48 hours of what was supposed to be a breakthrough in uniting a fractious government behind her road map for Brexit. Instead, it underscored the intractability of the issue for a kingdom stymied by infighting as the rest of the continent looks on.
There are no recent precedents for two secretaries of state and a junior minister resigning in the space of 24 hours in protest at the government’s central policy.
However, when May appeared in parliament on Monday afternoon, she did not look like a woman who was facing an existential crisis.
She eyeballed Labour lawmakers opposite and made jokes at the expense of their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
From there she went to a private meeting of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, where she was cheered warmly on arrival.
That was a little deceptive.
One lawmaker told the prime minister that her plan was not what the nation had voted for. Another suggested the events were the result of a plot to sabotage Brexit.
Nonetheless, May left to more cheers.
Late on Monday evening, she pieced together a new Cabinet. Secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt replaced Boris Johnson as secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs and pro-Brexit lawmaker Dominic Raab replaced David Davis as secretary of state for exiting the EU.
Hunt campaigned to stay in the EU, but has since said he would vote to leave if the referendum were held now.
In his resignation letter, Johnson spoke for angry Conservative Brexit-backers when he complained that voters were not going to get the things he had promised them when he campaigned to leave the EU.
“That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,’’ he wrote. “It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them.’’
May’s response was caustic.
“If you are not able to provide the support we need to secure this deal in the interests of the UK, it is right that you should step down,’’ she wrote.
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