Prime Minister Theresa May was clinging to power yesterday after her final Brexit gambit backfired, overshadowing a European election that has shown a United Kingdom still riven over its divorce from the EU.
May’s departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and an election that could usher in a socialist government.
In such a fluid situation, Britain faces an array of options including an orderly exit with a deal, a no-deal exit, an election or a second referendum that could ultimately reverse the 2016 decision to leave the EU.
May, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 referendum on EU membership, has repeatedly failed to get parliament’s approval for her divorce deal, which she pitched as a way to heal Britain’s Brexit divisions.
Her last gambit, offering a possible second referendum and closer trading arrangements with the EU, triggered a revolt by some Brexit-supporting ministers and triggered the resignation of her parliamentary business manager.
Yesterday, with Britons voting in a European election in which pre-poll surveys suggested May’s Conservatives would be thrashed by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, May was digging in.
The government said it would publish legislation to enact May’s EU deal, originally due today, early next month, and her spokesman said she would be listening to colleagues’ concerns.
Asked if she was planning to rewrite the legislation, he said: “She is focused on delivering Brexit ...”
“The prime minister wants to ensure that the UK leaves the EU with a deal, and the only way to leave with a deal is by ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.”
The mass-circulation Sun newspaper’s front page was headlined “May set to go after Brexit fiasco”, while the Times led with “May prepares to quit after cabinet mutiny”.
Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said May would still be prime minister when US President Donald Trump arrives for a state visit on June 3.
Meanwhile, the government yesterday postponed a crucial Brexit vote scheduled for the first week of June, following an outcry from hardline Brexiteers over concessions made by May.
EU supporters fear Brexit will undermine Britain’s economy - fifth-largest in the world - as well as London’s position as one of the world’s top two financial capitals. The chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, told lawmakers that May would meet him today to discuss her leadership. The Times said she would then name a date for her departure and remain prime minister while her successor was elected.