LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May was under intense pressure Monday to resign as the price of breaking the country’s Brexit impasse and winning support for her unloved EU divorce deal.
May was holding an emergency Cabinet meeting after the European Union granted Britain a delay to its exit in hope its deadlocked politicians can find a solution to the crisis.
The bloc isn’t counting on that, though. The European Commission said Monday it has completed planning for a “no-deal” Brexit – an outcome it called “increasingly likely.”
Britain’s best-selling newspaper, The Sun, piled pressure on May Monday with a front-page call for the prime minister to resign, under the headline “Time’s up, Theresa.”
Almost three years after Britons voted to walk away from the EU, the bloc’s leaders seized control of the Brexit timetable last week to avert a chaotic departure at the end of this month that would be disruptive for the world’s biggest trading bloc and deeply damaging for Britain.
For two years, Britain’s departure date was set for March 29, 2019. Now, if the British Parliament approves the divorce deal May struck with the bloc, it will leave the EU on May 22. If not, the United Kingdom has until April 12 to tell EU leaders what it plans to do – leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or chart a new path.
May hopes to bring her twice-rejected divorce deal back to Parliament for a third vote this week. But she stands little chance of getting it approved unless she can win over Brexit-backing lawmakers in her Conservative Party.
At a meeting Sunday at the prime minister’s country retreat, Chequers, prominent Brexiteers told May they might back the deal – if she agreed to step down so that a new leader could take charge of the next phase of negotiations, which will settle Britain’s future relations with the EU.
“Clearly, a number of people do not want the prime minister anywhere near the next phase of negotiations, which is the future trading relationship between ourselves and the EU,” pro-Brexit lawmaker Nigel Evans said Monday.
One of the attendees, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, accused the government of lacking “gumption” and chickening out on delivering Brexit. Writing in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, Johnson said that to win support for her deal, May must show that the next phase of negotiations “will be different from the first.”
That sounded like a hint he could support the deal if May agreed to quit. Johnson is likely to be a contender in any future Conservative leadership race.
May is hanging on, hoping she can persuade Brexit-backing lawmakers that rejecting her deal means Britain may never leave the EU.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday calling for a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain, and opponents of Brexit feel the political tide may be turning in their favor.
Meanwhile, pro-EU lawmakers plan to try to take control of the process out of the government’s hands by holding a series of votes on alternatives to May’s deal.
They hope these “indicative votes” on options including a new EU membership referendum or a “soft Brexit” that maintains close economic ties to the bloc, can find a majority for a new path.
But any such votes wouldn’t be legally binding, and May’s government has so far refused to alter its Brexit “red lines.”
The European Commission said Monday that it had finished planning for a no-deal Brexit, which could occur on April 12. The commission warned that despite the preparations, a cliff-edge Brexit would cause “significant disruption for citizens and businesses” in the bloc. It said new tariffs and border checks would cause delays for both people and goods.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox rallied to May’s support, saying she had support from the public, if not from lawmakers.
“What I was finding from real voters was people spontaneously saying ‘I don’t understand how Theresa May puts up with the pressure, she is a great public servant, her resilience is amazing,'” Fox told the BBC.
“There seems to me to be a bigger disconnect now between Westminster and what is happening out in the country than ever before.”