British PM Theresa May expected to announce on Friday that she will quit: Media

British Prime Minister Theresa May is in the last throes of a tumultuous rule focused all-but exclusively on guiding her fractured country out of the European Union.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is in the last throes of a tumultuous rule focused all-but exclusively on guiding her fractured country out of the European Union.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce her departure from office on Friday (May 24), The Times reported, without citing a source.

She will remain as prime minister while her successor is elected in a two-stage process under which two final candidates face a ballot of 125,000 Conservative Party members, the newspaper said.

More British ministers could resign from her government, following the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom who quit late on Wednesday, BBC Radio said.

"This programme has been told other ministers could soon follow," the BBC Today programme reported on Thursday.

Mrs May stared at the prospect of her political career coming to an inglorious end on Thursday after her final attempt to save her unpopular Brexit deal was met with condemnation in Parliament and Mrs Leadsom's resignation.

The beleaguered premier is in the last throes of a tumultuous rule focused all but exclusively on guiding her fractured country out of the European Union.

But three overwhelming rejections by Parliament of the terms she struck with the other 27 EU nations last year have forced Britain to miss the original March 29 departure date and plead for more time.

 
 
 
 

Anxious members of Mrs May's party met behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss changes to the rules that would let them vote no-confidence in her leadership in the days to come.

Her woes were made worse when Mrs Leadsom - one of Cabinet's strongest Brexit backers - resigned from her post as the government's representative in Parliament over Mrs May's handling of the slowly unfolding crisis.

"I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the (2016) referendum results," Mrs Leadsom said in her resignation letter.

In her response, Mrs May thanked Mrs Leadsom for her "passion, drive and sincerity", but took issue with her assessment of the government's Brexit strategy.

"I do not agree with you that the deal which we have negotiated with the European Union means that the United Kingdom will not become a sovereign country," Mrs May said.

Mrs May is now paying the price for failing to deliver on the wishes of voters who chose by a narrow margin in 2016 to break their uneasy four-decade involvement in the European integration project.

Her Conservatives are set to get thumped in European Parliament elections on Thursday in which the brand new Brexit Party of anti-EU populist Nigel Farage is running away with the polls.

Mrs May has already promised to step down no matter the outcome of her fourth attempt to ram her version of Brexit through Parliament in early June. But the British government said on Thursday the crucial Brexit vote has been postponed without providing a date. 

However even the sacrifice by Mrs May - and a package of sweeteners unveiled on Wednesday that included a chance for lawmakers to get a second Brexit referendum - failed to win hearts and minds.

"It's time for the Prime Minister to go," Mr Ian Blackford of the pro-EU Scottish National Party told Mrs May as she tried to defend her latest proposals in Parliament.

"Will she do it?"

Mrs May ignored the question and called the upcoming vote Britain's last chance to leave the EU with a negotiated deal that can avert economic chaos.

Parliament should "stop ducking the issues and get on with the job that British people instructed us to do", she said.

Many of Thursday's newspaper front pages pictured Mrs May apparently with tears in her eyes. "May set to go after Brexit fiasco," said The Sun tabloid.

Things look set to get even worse for Mrs May in the days and weeks to come.

The European elections are being interpreted in Britain as a referendum on Brexit and on Mrs May's ability to get the job done. They make grim reading for the government team.

A YouGov survey on Wednesday showed Mr Farage's Brexit Party claiming 37 per cent support.

The pro-EU Liberal Democrats were second on 19 per cent. The main opposition Labour Party was on 13 per cent and Mrs May's Conservatives were lagging in fifth place with just 7 per cent.

"If we win these elections and win them well, we have a democratic mandate," Mr Farage said on Thursday.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told supporters that a vote for his party was "a vote to stop Brexit".

His group's open rejection of Brexit appears to be resonating with pro-EU voters who would normally back one of the two main parties.

Some believe Mrs May is still hoping to stay in power long enough to somehow win Parliament's approval of the EU divorce terms before its summer recess begins on July 20.

This would let the country leave at the end of that month - as long as lawmakers reject a second referendum.

Otherwise the process could be delayed until Oct 31 - the deadline set by the EU - or even later if its leaders grant Britain another postponement.

But pressure within both Mrs May's government and party is building for her to go now so that a new leader can rescue the process before Britain crashes out without a deal.

British media reports said that Wednesday's meeting of Conservative parliamentarians discussed changes in rules focused on pushing Mrs May out the door within days.

The field of candidates to succeed Mrs May is led by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson - a divisive figure who enjoys relatively strong public support.