British Prime Minister Hangs By A Thread As Ministers Quit Over Brexit Deal

The British prime minister was clinging to power by the thinnest of threads on Thursday after a wave of resignations from her Cabinet and the beginnings of a political coup to oust her as leader.

Theresa May presented her draft deal for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union on Wednesday evening in a mammoth five-hour meeting with her top ministers. In a speech after the meeting, May gave a warning to those who might oppose her, hinting that scrapping Brexit entirely was still an option.

“The choice before us is clear: this deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum … or leave with no deal or no Brexit at all,” she said.

But by Thursday morning, just over 12 hours later, her Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, and her work and pensions minister, Esther McVey, both quit, saying they could not support May’s deal because it still requires the U.K. to follow some European Union rules.

Politicians pushing for a so-called “hard Brexit,” who are known as Brexiteers, don’t want any deal to tie the U.K. too closely to Brussels, arguing the U.K. should not be following any rules it no longer has a role in shaping.

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An anti-Brexit demonstrator holds a European Union flag and a British Union flag, also known as a Union Jack, in London Thursday.

May’s divided party exposes serious cracks in her leadership, as she attempts to steer the U.K. through its biggest shift in policy in more than 40 years. She now faces a serious threat by eurosceptic politicians, who are threatening to attempt to remove her as head of the Conservative Party by sending 48 letters of “no confidence” to the chair of the party’s organizing committee, which would trigger a leadership contest.

One of the key voices against the prime minister and one of the most ardent supporters of Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, offered a stinging attack on May Thursday in the House of Commons, where Parliament is located. He said her deal “failed to meet the promises given to the nation by the prime minister.”

Rees-Mogg confirmed he had sent a letter of no confidence, but it is not known how many others have been sent. 

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British Prime Minister Theresa May was barely clinging to power Thursday after two top officials resigned in the wake of her proposed Brexit deal.

May has so far remained defiant, saying in the Commons on Thursday, “The choice 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.”

But her deal came under a sustained attack in the Commons. Only a handful of Conservative parliament members (those in May’s party) spoke in favor of the agreement, which has taken 19 months of intensive negotiations to secure.

Legislators in the opposing party, the Labour Party, laughed when May said her deal would allow the U.K. to leave the EU “in a smooth and orderly way” on March 29. But May insisted the deal was in the national interest and offered a future relationship with “a breadth and depth of co-operation beyond anything the EU has agreed with any other country.”

Leaders in the Labour Party disagreed.

“Theresa May has no authority left and is clearly incapable of delivering a Brexit deal that commands even the support of her Cabinet, let alone Parliament and the people of our country,” said Jon Trickett, a member of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s senior team.

What happens next depends on whether May can survive as prime minister. Assuming she does, she still faces a huge uphill battle to get her Brexit deal through a vote in the Commons scheduled for December.

At a press conference later on Thursday, May delivered a short, stoic statement that offered no new information on the quickly changing situation.

“Serving in high office is an honor and privilege,” she said. “It is also a heavy responsibility ― that is true at any time, but especially when the stakes are so high.”

The Brexit negotiations are “a matter of the highest consequence,” she said, touching “almost every area of our national life.”

The developments threaten to derail the prime minister’s Brexit strategy ahead of a crucial EU summit, which European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed would take place on Nov. 25, “if nothing extraordinary happens.”

What happens next depends on whether May can survive as prime minister. Assuming she does, she still faces a huge uphill battle to get her Brexit deal through a vote in the Commons scheduled for December.

She could withdraw the current deal and ask the EU for an extension of negotiations, but that would likely be fatal for the already embattled prime minister.

If she is ousted, Britain’s already fraught political atmosphere will be further complicated by a Tory leadership battle. Raab, who just resigned, is expected to try to take May’s place.

More disruptive still would be a Commons-wide vote of no confidence, which could trigger a general election.

And then there is also the remote possibility that Britain holds a second referendum on Brexit, in which case it might have to go through all this all over again.