LONDON • Britain's beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May was set to face a no-confidence vote yesterday evening within her own Conservative Party, as lawmakers upset with her handling of Britain's withdrawal from the EU sought to topple her from power.
The ballot was to be held between 6pm and 8pm London time yesterday (2am and 4am today, Singapore time) in a room at the House of Commons, and an announcement was to be made as soon as possible afterwards, said Mr Graham Brady, chairman of the party's parliamentary group in the British House of Commons, the so-called 1922 committee.
Earlier in the day, Mr Brady said the threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary Conservative Party seeking a confidence vote had been reached, adding that he had told Mrs May of that development on Tuesday night by telephone.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence, a defiant Mrs May said she intended to fight the challenge "with everything I've got", warning that having a new leader at this juncture would put "our country's future at risk". "Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart would only create more division, when we should be standing together," she said.
Mrs May argued that the only beneficiaries of a vote of no-confidence would be the opposition Labour Party, as a new leader would not be in place by the Jan 21 legal deadline for approving the Brexit deal.
"A new leader wouldn't have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through Parliament by March 29, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it," she added, referring to the clause invoked by Britain to exit the European Union treaty.
Mrs May needed to win 158 votes from among the 315 Conservative MPs to remain as party leader and, therefore, prime minister. If she does so, then party members cannot mount another challenge to her leadership for a year.
CALL FOR UNITY
Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart would only create more division, when we should be standing together.
BRITAIN'S PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY, ahead of the confidence vote.
If she loses the vote, then the party would choose another leader over the coming weeks, and Mrs May would not be eligible to compete for the position.
A BBC tally said 158 party MPs indicated they would be backing Mrs May. But British political commentators reported that some lawmakers who back Mrs May in public say privately that they will vote against her.
Mr Brady said that if Mrs May lost the confidence vote and there was a leadership contest, Conservative MPs could whittle down the contenders to a shortlist of two within 10 days.
However, it would be for the party's board to decide how long the ballot of members would take to decide between the final two under Tory party rules.
Among the names doing the rounds as a potential successor to Mrs May are former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, besides former Brexit negotiators Dominic Raab and David Davis.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers have been threatening to unseat Mrs May for months, accusing her of betraying Brexit in negotiations, while opponents of Brexit say she has negotiated a deal that is the worst of all worlds - out of the EU but with no say over the rules Britain has to abide by.
A schism in the Conservative Party over Britain's relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three previous Conservative premiers - Mr David Cameron, Mr John Major and Mrs Margaret Thatcher.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG