LONDON • Calls for a vote of no-confidence in the leadership of Mrs Theresa May are growing as the British Prime Minister faced the public yesterday to defend her Brexit deal which has provoked the resignations of senior ministers.
Mrs May made a rare outing on a radio phone-in during which she faced a call to step down after a tumultuous Thursday in which ministers resigned.
"I truly believe this is the best deal for Britain," Mrs May said of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement, adding that she was "very sorry" that ministers, including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, had quit.
Many media outlets reported that Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the highest-profile pro-Brexit campaigner left standing in Mrs May's Cabinet, had been offered the position of Brexit secretary.
Mrs May told LBC radio that she had a "very good conversation" with Mr Gove and would be appointing a new Brexit chief "over the next day or so".
"I don't want to see any of my Cabinet colleagues who have been doing a good job in the Cabinet feeling the need to resign," she added.
One caller, a local councillor in her centre-right Conservative Party, urged Mrs May to "do the right thing in the national interest and stand down".
THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
1 How to trigger a vote?
A challenge is triggered if 15 per cent of the Conservative MPs write letters demanding a confidence vote to the chairman of the party's "1922 Committee", which represents MPs who have no government jobs.
The Conservatives have 315 MPs, so 48 would need to write such letters for a vote to be called.
2 Could this happen?
Some eurosceptic MPs have publicly said they have submitted such letters in protest against Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit negotiating strategy. But the 1922 Committee's chairman, Mr Graham Brady, is the only person who knows how many have actually submitted letters.
3 What happens during a vote?
If Mrs May wins, she remains in office and cannot be challenged again for 12 months. If she loses, she must resign and cannot stand in the leadership election that follows.
4 How quickly can a vote take place?
The vote is held as soon as possible, on a date decided by the 1922 Committee chairman in consultation with the party leader. The last no-confidence vote against a Conservative leader, when the party was in opposition in 2003, was held the day after the Committee chairman announced he had received enough letters.
5 What happens if Mrs May loses?
There will be a leadership contest to decide her replacement. Her replacement will become prime minister, but a general election will not automatically be triggered.
She also faced comparisons with prime minister Neville Chamberlain and his 1938 appeasement of Nazi Germany's dictator Adolf Hitler.
"We are not going to be locked in forever to something that we don't want," Mrs May insisted.
Brexiteer MPs fear the deal would keep Britain shackled to Brussels, while EU supporters say it would leave the UK on worse terms than it has inside the bloc and are calling for a second Brexit referendum to break the logjam.
Mrs May could yet face a vote of no-confidence from her own MPs.
Some Conservative lawmakers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, the high-profile leader of the Brexit hardline European Research Group, said they have submitted letters of no-confidence in the British leader.
At least 48 letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader. Unconfirmed reports have surfaced in British media that 48 such letters have been submitted.
Telegraph chief political correspondent Christopher Hope said on Twitter, citing Brexiteer sources, that Mrs May could face the no-confidence vote on Tuesday. A count by Reuters shows at least 20 lawmakers have submitted their letters.
But a majority of the party's 315 lawmakers would have to vote against Mrs May in order for her to be ousted - and if she wins, she cannot be challenged for 12 months.
Mrs May's Conservatives do not have a majority in Parliament's Lower House of Commons and MPs from all sides lined up in the Chamber on Thursday to say her draft deal would be voted down, satisfying neither Brexiteers nor pro-EU loyalists.
The Conservatives rely on Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for a slim majority but the DUP is prepared to vote against the deal, fearing it splits the province off from the rest of the UK in order to prevent a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland.
Asked whether DUP leader Arlene Foster had withdrawn her party's backing, Mrs May said: "I haven't had a testy exchange with Arlene on that." She also insisted that the DUP's overall support for the government was still intact.
The 585-page draft deal aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides.
Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protect citizens' rights and settle Britain's last bill.
EU member states have until Tuesday to examine the deal and to agree to the wording of a parallel political statement setting out goals for the bloc's future relations with London.
A special EU summit to seal the hard-fought Brexit agreement will be held on Nov 25.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE