Embattled British PM Theresa May holds crisis meeting amid talk of coup

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaving at the end of the Article 50 session at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday. According to reports by the British media, Mrs May could be replaced by an interim leader who would lead Britai
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaving at the end of the Article 50 session at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday. According to reports by the British media, Mrs May could be replaced by an interim leader who would lead Britain through Brexit.Speculation was rife late on Saturday that colleagues in her Conservative Party were poised to force her to stand down.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Rumours of ouster plot swirl as May must make decision about third vote on Brexit deal

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May held crisis talks yesterday with Conservative colleagues as she tries to plot a path through a pivotal week in the Brexit process amid reports that her leadership is under imminent threat.

Ensconced at her country residence Chequers, the embattled Premier must decide when, or even if, to ask British MPs to vote again on her unpopular European Union divorce deal, which they have already overwhelmingly rejected twice.

She is also confronted with the prospect of lawmakers seizing control of House of Commons procedures in order to hold a series of so-called "indicative votes" to reveal what support exists for other options.

It follows Mrs May securing at a EU summit last week a delay to Britain's scheduled March 29 departure for at least three weeks to get her agreement approved or find a viable alternative.

"The Prime Minister is speaking to her colleagues this weekend," a Downing Street spokesman said yesterday, declining to confirm reports she would hold an afternoon summit with leading Brexiteer MPs outside government.

This week could see MPs vote for a third time on the Premier's unpopular withdrawal agreement - though Mrs May has said this would happen only if there were signs of "sufficient support".

NOT TAKING OVER

I don't think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job.

MR DAVID LIDINGTON, de factor deputy leader of the Conservative Party, dismissing rumours of plans for him to take over in a caretaker capacity.

COUP UNLIKELY

No. I don't think that is the case at all. Changing prime minister wouldn't help us.

FINANCE MINISTER PHILIP HAMMOND, on reports of a plot to oust Prime Minister Theresa May by senior ministers.

The government is set to publish today its plans for the House of Commons this week.

However, following a particularly chaotic week even for Mrs May's crisis-hit government, speculation was rife late on Saturday that colleagues in her Conservative Party were poised to force her to stand down.

The Sunday Times reported she was "at the mercy of a full-blown Cabinet coup", with plans afoot for her de facto deputy David Lidington to take over in a caretaker capacity.

The BBC, citing senior Conservatives, said MPs in the party have said they might back Mrs May's plan if she promises to stand down.

Mr Lidington yesterday dismissed the rumours, saying: "I don't think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job."

Finance Minister Philip Hammond, when asked yesterday by broadcaster Sky about the reports of a plot to oust Mrs May by senior ministers, said: "No. I don't think that is the case at all."

He added: "Changing prime minister wouldn't help us."

Britain's Parliament and Cabinet have been deadlocked for months over Brexit, with lawmakers unable to decide how to implement the 2016 referendum vote to leave, reflecting bitter divisions nationwide.

 
 

On Saturday, an estimated one million Remainers marched through central London demanding another public vote on leaving the bloc, according to organisers.

Following the agreement with the EU to postpone Brexit - which MPs must still vote into law next week to prevent a no-deal departure on Friday - the path forward still remains highly uncertain.

MPs will resume debate on Brexit today and have the chance to vote on an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of senior lawmakers scheduling "indicative votes" two days later. A similar move earlier this month failed by just two votes.

If passed, lawmakers will be able to vote on a range of options, from stopping Brexit altogether or holding a second referendum to remaining in a customs union with the EU or its single market. MPs could then try to turn their non-binding votes into enforceable law.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay warned yesterday that such a move could spark a constitutional crisis and "the risk of a general election increases" under such a scenario.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


Deal, no-deal, delay or no Brexit?

LONDON • Britain is left with four possible courses ahead of an all-important parliamentary vote on the divorce deal expected this week.

LEAVE WITH DEAL ON MAY 22

British MPs have twice rejected a draft divorce agreement struck between London and Brussels.

A new vote on the agreement, which allows for a long transition period and time for trade ties to be negotiated, was expected this week but Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers on Friday this would happen only if there were signs of "sufficient support".

If MPs overcome numerous objections from "Brexiteers" and "Remainers" and approve the exit deal, Britain will leave the European Union on May 22.

According to some reports, Mrs May could try to get her deal over the line by offering to resign if MPs approve it, which could win over some Brexit hardliners.

NO-DEAL BREXIT, LEAVE ON APRIL 12 OR LATER

If MPs reject the deal for a third time, or no vote is held, the default option would be that Britain leaves without a deal.

 

According to a European official, that hard deadline would be April 12 but French President Emanuel Macron said a later date for no-deal Brexit could be agreed. Mrs May has not ruled out the possibility of a no-deal despite a potentially heavy economic fallout.

REQUEST LONG BREXIT DELAY

Britain could also ask EU leaders for another, much longer delay by April 12. That would mean it would have to hold European Parliament elections at the end of May.

The European Commission has advised EU leaders that this longer extension should be at least until the end of this year and possibly much longer to allow for a proper change in Brexit strategy.

The longer delay would allow time for a change in prime minister if the growing list of Mrs May's opponents in the Conservative Party manage to force her out.

It would also open up other options such as holding a general election or a second referendum.

STOP BREXIT

An estimated one million people flooded London on Saturday calling for a second referendum while an online petition that started on Wednesday, asking the government to end the Brexit process, has collected over four million signatures.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Britain could unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification - the formal procedure for leaving the EU. But House of Lords member John Kerr, who helped draw up Article 50, said a revocation "isn't politically doable" without a general election or referendum. Mrs May has also ruled this option out.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'Embattled British PM holds crisis meeting amid talk of coup'. Print Edition | Subscribe