Theresa May in Brexit turmoil with Parliament majority slashed

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May walks to deliver a speech as she opens the Farnborough Airshow, south west of London, on July 16, 2018.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May walks to deliver a speech as she opens the Farnborough Airshow, south west of London, on July 16, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May's ability to deliver Brexit has been thrown into doubt as infighting in her Conservative Party leaves her with a perilously small majority, staggering from one vote to the next.

Mrs May's majority was cut to just three votes after she adopted Brexiter amendments to a key piece of customs legislation, and the proposals narrowly passed through the House of Commons late on Monday.

The closeness of the ballots and the strength of feeling on both sides of her divided party underlined the scale of her task in getting the final Brexit deal she negotiates with the European Union through Parliament.

A 10th member of her government quit on Monday in order to vote against her - this time in favour of a soft Brexit - and Mrs May needed the backing of three rebels from the opposition Labour Party to win.

She was slated to face more votes yesterday, including one on a proposal to send lawmakers on holiday early in what is seen as a tactic to avoid more plotting against her.

With her team split down the middle over how to handle the biggest issue facing the country, time is running out. Mrs May has just three months left before an October deadline to secure an exit deal ahead of the country's formal departure next March.

The rebellions are "a prelude to the big - and real - battle coming in the winter when the Prime Minister comes back with her deal and we know what the choice is. And whether she can continue", Tory lawmaker George Freeman, who used to head Mrs May's policy board, said in a posting on Instagram.

 
 
 

"Brexit is coming home to roost. And it won't be easy or pleasant."

On Monday night, 14 Tories who want to stay close to the EU voted against the government. They included defence minister Guto Bebb, who quit his post in order to rebel.

Because other lawmakers were absent, Mrs May survived the vote. But the rebels exceeded the seven it would take to defeat the government if all opposition parties also voted against it.

More votes were expected yesterday on Mrs May's Brexit plans, this time on her trade Bill.

Among the potential flashpoints are anti-government amendments designed to keep the United Kingdom inside a formal customs union with the EU.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission announced that it was fining Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, for breaching spending limits and refusing to cooperate with its investigation.

It found that the campaign broke spending rules by channelling funds through a smaller group. Vote Leave has denied wrongdoing.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'May in Brexit turmoil with Parliament majority slashed'. Print Edition | Subscribe