Theresa May rewrites Brexit deal to head off cabinet revolt
Theresa May was on Thursday rewriting her Brexit deal in an attempt to head off a full-scale cabinet revolt, as the embattled prime minister clung to office in spite of intense pressure to quit.
Downing Street admitted Mrs May had abandoned plans to publish on Friday her withdrawal agreement bill to implement the UK’s departure from the EU, and that she was “listening to colleagues” about the legislation.
Number 10 also conceded that Mrs May might no longer be able to push the bill to a key Commons vote on June 7, as Tory opposition to the legislation intensified.
Mrs May on Tuesday enraged Conservative Eurosceptics, including those in her cabinet, by outlining a revamped Brexit deal in which MPs would have a vote on whether to hold a second EU referendum.
The move by Mrs May was aimed at securing Labour support for her deal, but Andrea Leadsom, leader of the Commons, quit in protest on Wednesday evening and Downing Street feared other ministers could follow.
David Mundell, Scottish secretary, is considering his position, believing that if Mrs May agrees to legislate for another EU referendum — and MPs vote for it — this would strengthen calls for another independence plebiscite in Scotland.
Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary, was among the ministers scheduled to meet Mrs May on Thursday to discuss grave misgivings over her willingness to contemplate a second EU referendum.
Cabinet ministers vying to succeed Mrs May were calculating whether they should resign like Mrs Leadsom, rather than be tarnished by association with a Brexit deal that looks unlikely to be implemented.
Priti Patel, former international development secretary, said: “The entire cabinet are complicit in the failure to deliver Brexit and responsible for the betrayal of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave.”
Mrs May is trying to stave off a full-blown cabinet revolt by rewriting the section of the withdrawal agreement bill relating to a second Brexit referendum, but this move would remove any lingering hope that Labour might back it.
Her closest advisers are split between those who want her to stagger on and have one last attempt to push her Brexit deal through parliament, and others who think she should accept defeat and resign with at least some of her dignity intact.
Mrs May’s fate could be decided on Friday when she meets Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, who will warn her that she will be toppled unless she sets a date for her departure.
Sir Graham is expected to tell Mrs May she will face a confidence vote by Conservative MPs if she does not drop the withdrawal agreement bill.
Should Mrs May conclude she cannot bring forward her Brexit legislation, her resignation could be only days away.
The government did not set a date for a vote on the withdrawal agreement bill when it announced on Thursday the Commons business for the week starting June 3.
The political uncertainty added to further pressure on the pound, which fell 0.4 per cent at the start of London trading to $1.2612, taking it to fresh lows for this year excluding a brief “flash crash” in January.
The UK currency has shed more than 3 per cent of its value this month: one of its worst stretches since the 2016 EU referendum.
The rising pressure on Mrs May comes as the European Parliament elections threaten to produce the worst results for the Conservatives in the party’s history.
Voting began on Thursday morning after surveys suggested the Tories could finish in fourth or fifth place, with a vote share below 10 per cent. Results will be declared on Sunday night.
The likely victory in the elections of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party has spooked Conservative MPs, many of whom want Mrs May to step down immediately to allow the party to regroup under a new leader.