Britain’s May says she will quit if her Brexit deal passes

By Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday she would quit if her twice-defeated EU divorce deal passes at the third attempt, making a last-ditch bid to persuade rebels in her Conservative party to back her.

May told a meeting of Conservative lawmakers she would stand down if her divorce plan finally got through a bitterly-divided parliament, to ensure a smooth path for a new leader to begin the next step of negotiating the future relationship with the European Union.

“I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party,” May said. “I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.”

May’s announcement is the latest dramatic turn in the United Kingdom’s three-year Brexit crisis, but it is still remains uncertain how, when or even if it will leave the European Union.

Many of the Conservative rebels who want a cleaner break from the EU than May’s deal would deliver had made it clear that they would only consider supporting her agreement if she gave a firm commitment and date for her resignation.

May, a vicar’s daughter, had already promised to step down before the next election, due in 2022. By agreeing to go sooner, she increases the chances of her EU deal passing before the new April 12 deadline.

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party,” May told the party meeting, according to extracts released by her office.

“I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.”

The government is now expected to bring the deal back to parliament for a third vote on Friday.

“It was inevitable and I just feel she’s made the right decision. She has actually read the mood of the party, which was a surprise,” said Conservative lawmaker Pauline Latham.

May’s deal means Britain will leave the EU single market and customs union as well as EU political bodies.

But it requires some EU rules to apply unless ways can be found in the future to ensure no border is rebuilt between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Many Conservative rebels have objected to this so-called Irish backstop, saying it risks binding Britain to the EU for years. But given the choice between the backstop and no Brexit at all, more should come round.

Some of the party’s most influential dissenters had already indicated they would back her deal, agreed after two years of talks with the EU, saying it was the least worst option.

May’s deal was defeated in parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15.

While May was telling her lawmakers of her intention to quit in a parliament committee room, MPs in the main chamber debated eight Brexit options ranging from leaving abruptly with no deal to revoking the divorce papers or holding a new referendum.

Several options on the table would see much closer alignments with the EU than May has been willing to consider, including staying in the common market or a customs union. They will vote at 1900 GMT on a ballot paper for as many proposals as they wish. Results will be announced after 2100 GMT.

The United Kingdom was originally due to leave the EU on March 29 but last week the EU granted an extension to the divorce date until April 12.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Andrew MacAskill, Paul Sandle, Kate Holton, William Schomberg, Elisabeth O’Leary, and James Davey; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

‘A very uncivil war’: Britain’s Conservatives on the brink over Brexit

A cyclist displaying Unioin Flags passes the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, central London, Britain December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – The divorce deal British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with the European Union after months of tortuous negotiations was meant to unite her ruling Conservative Party over Brexit.

But a month later, rifts over Europe run so deep lawmakers have triggered a leadership contest that some members fear could tear apart a centuries-old institution that has produced prime ministers such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

Divisions over how close Britain should be tied to Europe contributed to the downfall of May’s three predecessors: David Cameron, John Major and Thatcher. May will become the next victim if a simple majority of her lawmakers move against her in a confidence vote on her leadership on Wednesday evening.

While a party split may still seem a distant option, former Conservative party leader William Hague and former attorney general Dominic Grieve have both raised the specter of an end to the Conservative Party in its current form.

With her job on the line, May too appealed on Wednesday for an end to the bitter Conservative infighting.

“Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just as we should be standing together to serve our country,” she said outside her Downing Street office.

As the scheduled date for Britain’s departure from the European Union on March 29 draws near, Brexit supporters are doing little to hide their disdain for the government or their pro-EU colleagues – and vice versa.

May and her team are often now described in brutally harsh terms, with some lawmakers feeling betrayed by what one calls the “sophistry” of using soundbites and “clever language” to cloud what they say is her soft position towards the EU.

“A very uncivil war has broken out,” one Conservative lawmaker said on condition of anonymity.

He said he had broken a long tradition of having breakfast in the parliament canteen because it had become a “toxic place”. He now eats in a nearby cafe.


More worrying for May is the lack of trust she now inspires in her so-called backbenchers, the lawmakers she needs to get any legislation, including the Brexit deal, through parliament.

“So many MPs were opposed to the prime minister, and so trenchantly, that it is hard to see them coming to a consensus,” Hague wrote in pro-Conservative The Telegraph newspaper.

“If they fail to do so, they will have to brace themselves for the divisions among them to be exacerbated by a party leadership election, or a general election, or another referendum campaign or all of those one after the other.”

The Conservative Party, which returned to power in 2010 after more than a decade of Labour Party rule, has been divided over the EU for decades but the 2016 referendum Cameron called to settle the rows for good have only worsened the schisms.

Since the text of a divorce deal was agreed on Nov. 13 setting out the terms on which the country would leave on March 29, positions have hardened among Conservatives.

Pro-Brexit campaigners accuse May of trying to keep Britain too closely aligned with the EU even after the country leaves when they want a clean break with Brussels.

May’s decision to delay a parliamentary vote on the deal this week provoked anger among members because ministers had promised until the very last minute it would go ahead. One had confirmed Britain must push ahead with the debate just hours before May’s U-turn.

“Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it,” pro-Brexit campaigners Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a statement. “In the national interest, she must go.”


Pro-EU Conservatives were equally entrenched with the future of Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy at stake in the country’s most significant political decision since World War Two.

“I think this is a disgraceful move by a small group of people who are engaging in their ideologically driven self-interest,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said on Wednesday after the leadership challenge was announced.

“Unfortunately, Theresa has been feeding this monster that now has turned on her to try and, in turn, eat her … If she doesn’t sort these people out, then our party is doomed.”

For many Brexit supporters, trust in the government has long been undermined. They felt May had taken on their Brexit platform of leaving the EU’s single market and customs union when she launched the negotiations to leave.

But that confidence has been whittled away since she lost the party’s majority in an election she need not have called in June 2017, with one Brexit supporter saying: “Since the election … it’s been downhill all the way.”

The Labour Party is now pressing for an election, something several Conservative lawmakers say the squabbling party is far from prepared for. But Labour also is deeply divided over Brexit and some in its ranks say it too would suffer under the spotlight of an election.

Still, the Conservative Party has been disciplined in its pursuit of power, and some say that while the atmosphere is bad at the moment, it may pass when Brexit is over.

“There are some people who disagree profoundly with other people,” one Conservative lawmaker said. “You might get one of two disaffected people swanning off, but I don’t think it will amount to a split.”

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; additional reporting by William James; editing by David Clarke)

Britain’s May bows to Brexit pressure in parliament

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives at Downing Street, in central London, Britain July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May bowed to pressure from Brexit supporters in her governing Conservative Party on Monday, accepting their changes to a customs bill that underpins Britain’s departure from the European Union.

May, vulnerable in parliament after losing her party’s majority at an ill-judged election last year, has come under fire from both wings of her party over a hard-won Brexit plan, with one ex-minister calling it the “worst of all worlds”.

Eurosceptic lawmakers had targeted her government’s customs legislation to try to toughen up her plans to leave the EU, but instead of facing them down and fuelling tensions, her spokesman said the government would accept their four amendments.

It was not clear the move would fundamentally change her plans – the changes do little more than to put government policy into law, her spokesman said – but it was a victory of sorts for those lawmakers who say May has betrayed them on Brexit, the biggest shift in British trade and foreign policy for decades.

“We will be accepting those four amendments,” the spokesman told reporters, saying the government believed they were “consistent” with the white paper policy document ministers agreed earlier this month.

“We have accepted these amendments because we believe them to be consistent with the approach that was set out and agreed at Chequers,” he said.

May had to fight hard to get the agreement of cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence for her vision for Britain’s future ties with the EU, only for it to be undermined by the resignations last week of her Brexit minister David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

The plan, only a starting point for the second phase of talks with the EU, has come under fire from other eurosceptic lawmakers, who say the proposal to keep close customs ties to the EU betrays her commitment for a clean break with the bloc.

The battle over the amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, or customs bill, is unlikely to be the last that May and her team will have to face.


On Monday, the other wing of May’s Conservative Party – those lawmakers who want to keep the closest possible ties with the EU after Brexit – spoke up in the voice of former education minister Justine Greening who called for a second referendum.

Greening said such a vote was the only way to break the stalemate in parliament over the best future relationship with the bloc and branded May’s plan as “a fudge I can’t support. It’s the worst of both worlds”.

May’s spokesman said there would be no second referendum under any circumstances, and restated her position that the Chequers plan was the only way to deliver a Brexit that worked in the best interests of the country.

Another pro-EU lawmaker Dominic Grieve, who has led previous efforts to get the government to soften its Brexit stance, said the party needed to accept compromises “or accept that Brexit cannot be implemented and think again about what we are doing”.

For now the impetus lies with the Brexit supporters.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, an arch eurosceptic who proposed the amendments, said he did not expect the bill, or another bill on trade due to be debated on Tuesday, to be blocked outright by the 650-member parliament. Rees-Mogg said that he wanted rather to test the support in parliament for changing her strategy.

“I’m sure Theresa May does not want to split the Conservative Party and therefore she will find that the inevitable consequence of the parliamentary arithmetic is that she will need to change it (the Brexit policy) to keep the party united,” Rees-Mogg said.

(Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by David Stamp and Gareth Jones)