LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May battled against a rebellion over her draft Brexit deal on Thursday, as ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her.
The Conservative leader tried to defend the proposed agreement before a hostile parliament after four ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, quit the government.
Ms May insisted it was the best deal Britain could hope to strike when it leaves the European Union on March 29, warning that the only alternatives were leaving with no deal or not leaving at all.
But members of parliament on all sides told her there was no way it could win their approval, with arch-Brexiteers and EU loyalists alike insisting it was already sunk.
Brexit hardliners see the deal as conceding too much to Brussels, while EU supporters are calling for a second referendum, or “people’s vote” on a final deal.
The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.
Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, protect citizens’ rights and settle Britain’s last bill.
Amid the political turmoil, the pound dropped by more than 1.5 per cent against the dollar to a one-month low and a similar amount against the euro.
As May spoke, the European Research Group of Brexit hardliners met in a parliamentary committee room to plot her removal.
ERG chief Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister saying: “It would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside.”
At least 48 letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader, but a majority of the party’s 315 lawmakers would have to vote against Ms May in order for her to be ousted.
Although other MPs have already sent letters, all eyes were on Rees-Mogg given his influence over Brexit supporting MPs.
The MP told reporters that a challenge could be launched within weeks. “I think it can be done quite quickly,” he said.
“The parliamentary processes can be sped up,” suggesting a time frame of “not months, but I think weeks”.
Ms May went into battle after Raab resigned over the draft deal, while a second cabinet minister and two junior government ministers also walked out.
She faced a barrage of exceptionally hostile questions from MPs — not only from the opposition but from her own Conservative backbenchers.
“If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead,” Ms May told lawmakers.