British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday outlined her Brexit survival strategy to her disgruntled ministers, as the nation entered the week it was meant to leave the EU with its government in crisis.
Britain is still no closer to figuring out how it intends to split off from the other 27 EU nations than it was when voters narrowly backed Brexit in a divisive 2016 national poll.
All the options are back on the table after May’s deal twice failed to win parliamentary support by resounding margins.
Anxious EU leaders last week agreed to delay Brexit’s March 29 deadline and give Britain until April 12 to figure out how it intends to avoid simply crashing out of the bloc.
The EU yesterday ramped up the pressure, saying it had completed no-deal preparations as this outcome on April 12 was looking “increasingly likely.”
May outlined her plans to top ministers before chairing a special meeting of the Cabinet that followed a weekend of UK media reports about an attempted government coup.
“Time’s up, Theresa,” the Sun tabloid, Britain’s most widely read newspaper, said in a front-page headline.
May on Sunday huddled with several of the reported plotters at her Chequers country residence.
Most of them are Brexit backers who fear the terms of Britain’s departure being watered down — or even reversed — down the line.
“Theresa May is the chicken who bottled Brexit,” former British secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs Boris Johnson — May’s great critic and eternal leadership rival — wrote in a weekly column for the Telegraph.
“It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels — LET MY PEOPLE GO,” Johnson wrote.
How May intends to go about saving both Brexit and her leadership should become more apparent when she speaks in parliament yesterday afternoon.
Media reports said that she would offer lawmakers to vote on an array of Brexit options that include Britain maintaining much closer trade ties with the EU than those written into her deal.
Other alternatives include holding a second Brexit referendum and even revoking Article 50 — the notice London sent Brussels about its intention to leave.
“I think we will see today that there is a mood in the House of Commons to stop us leaving without a deal, even if that means no Brexit,” British Secretary of State for International Trade Lima Fox told BBC radio.
“I think that is a constitutionally disastrous position,” he said.
The prospect of a softer form of Brexit could theoretically push Brexit hardliners into supporting May’s current deal, but May herself admits that she is nowhere near to securing the votes needed to finally get her Brexit deal over the line.
It is not entirely clear when — or even if — she would go for a third vote.
“As the prime minister has said, there wouldn’t be much point bringing a vote back to the house that clearly we were going to lose,” Fox said.
What happens to her premiership if parliament rallies around a more EU-friendly Brexit alternative that contradicts her policies is unclear.
Brexit should happen on May 22 if the prime minister’s deal somehow prevails.
However, parliament could still get a chance to have its say on alternative options tomorrow if an initial vote by lawmakers later yesterday went through/
Whatever lawmakers decide on would not be binding — but it would put enormous pressure on May.
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