May battles to control Brexit amid calls for her to quit

EU wraps up preparations for UK crashing out without deal, saying the scenario is increasingly likely

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May battled yesterday to keep control of Britain's exit from the EU as some in her party called on her to quit, and Parliament plotted to wrest the Brexit process away from the government.

At one of the most important junctures for the country in at least a generation, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years after the 2016 EU membership referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will take place.

With Mrs May humiliated and weakened, ministers lined up to insist she was still in charge and to deny any part in, or knowledge of, a reported plot to demand she name a date to leave office at a Cabinet meeting yesterday morning.

"Time's up, Theresa," The Sun newspaper said in a front-page editorial, adding that her one chance of getting her Brexit deal passed by Parliament was to name her departure date.

Some lawmakers publicly called for Mrs May to go.

"I hope that the Cabinet will tell the Prime Minister the game is up," Mr Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker who supports Brexit, told Sky News. "The Prime Minister does not have the confidence of the parliamentary party. She clearly doesn't have the confidence of the Cabinet and she certainly doesn't have the confidence of our members out there in the country," he said.

With just days before the original exit date of March 29, ministers and lawmakers were still publicly discussing an array of options, including leaving with Mrs May's deal, with no deal, revoking the Article 50 divorce papers, calling another referendum or going for a closer relationship with the EU.

Mrs May had to delay that departure date due to the political deadlock in London. Now Britain will leave on May 22, if her deal is approved by Parliament. If not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty.

Mrs May's spokesman said yesterday that the government will only hold another so-called meaningful vote on the Brexit deal if it has a chance of getting the support of Parliament on a third attempt.

"We will only bring the vote back if we believe that we would be in a position to win it," the spokesman told reporters, declining to comment whether the vote would take place today. The spokesman said ministers at yesterday's Cabinet meeting did not discuss the Prime Minister's future.

The deal Mrs May negotiated with the EU was defeated in Parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan 15.

To get it passed, she must win over at least 75 MPs - dozens of rebels in her Conservative Party, some opposition Labour Party MPs and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

The leader of the DUP, Mrs Arlene Foster, told Mrs May yesterday that their opposition to her Brexit divorce deal had not changed, a spokesman for the party said.

As speculation swirled around Mrs May's future, Parliament prepared to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.

Lawmakers were expected to vote last night on possible ways forward. Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin's amendment seeks to change the rules of Parliament in order to provide time for lawmakers to debate and vote on different options.

Meanwhile, the EU believes a no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely, officials said. The EU announced yesterday that it has completed its preparations for Britain's crashing out of the bloc without a divorce accord, as fears of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit grow. "As it is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal on April 12, the European Commission has today completed its 'no-deal' preparations," the commission, the bloc's executive arm, said in a statement.

The commission outlined measures in 13 key areas, from rules on flying and road transport to travel regulations, fishing rights and banking - while stressing that they would only reduce the disruption, not prevent it altogether. "The EU's contingency measures will not - and cannot - mitigate the overall impact of a 'no-deal' scenario, nor do they in any way compensate for the lack of preparedness or replicate the full benefits of EU membership," the commission said.

If there is no deal, the EU will immediately apply its rules at the border with the UK - including Customs checks, food safety inspections and verification of EU standards - leading to long delays at busy crossing points such as Channel ports and the Channel Tunnel.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'May battles to control Brexit amid calls for her to quit'. Print Edition | Subscribe