“Time’s up, Theresa.” Those are the words plastered across the front page of one of Britain’s most-read newspapers today, as pressure builds on Prime Minister Theresa May to resign.
“She has lost the backing of much of her country and now her party,” The Sun declares in an explosive editorial.
The paper’s tone is rueful. It says Ms May “deserves huge credit” for tackling the “greatest challenge” any British prime minister has faced since World War II — overseeing the country’s exit from the European Union.
But parliament has twice rejected the deal Ms May reached with the EU, and one final push to have it approved this week appears to be doomed.
“Her deal has only one, slim chance of achieving a majority in the Commons. That is if she pledges to resign and set in motion the election of her successor as Tory leader and PM,” The Sun says.
It isn’t alone.
Ms May is hours away from hosting a Cabinet meeting with her ministers, many of whom reportedly want to overthrow her.
Over the weekend The Sunday Times reported no fewer than 11 ministers were planning to tell her to resign, allowing a caretaker prime minister to take control of the Brexit process.
Ms May’s deputy David Lidington and one of her senior ministers, Michael Gove, were both touted as possible replacements. Both came out to deny the report of a looming coup.
“I don’t think that I’ve any wish to take over from the PM, who I think is doing a fantastic job,” Mr Lidington said.
“One thing that working closely with the Prime Minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” said Mr Gove.
Complicating the situation is the fact that Tory MPs already tried to oust Ms May in December, and under the party’s rules, they cannot try again for 12 months. If she’s going to leave, it has to be of her own volition.
And adding to the chaos, as they have all along, are the hard-line Brexiteers.
Ms May hosted a group of leading Brexiteers, including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Steve Baker and Dominic Raab, at her country retreat Chequers yesterday.
She hoped to convince them to support her deal. Instead, according to The Guardian, they gave her the same blunt ultimatum as The Sun, urging her to publicly announce when she would resign or face certain defeat in parliament.
Mr Johnson quickly scuttled any lingering hopes he would compromise, writing a scathing opinion piece for the UK Telegraph, in which he accused Ms May of “bottling” Brexit.
“We are not leaving this Friday because the government has chickened out,” he said.
“For almost three years every Tory MP has chirruped the mantra that no deal would be better than a bad deal. I believed that the government was sincere in making that claim, and I believed that the PM genuinely had the 29th of March inscribed in her heart.
“I am afraid I misread the government. We have blinked. We have baulked. We have bottled it completely.”
Britain was supposed to leave the EU at the end of the week, on March 29, but was recently granted a short extension until April 12.
If Ms May can get her deal through parliament this week, the EU will postpone the deadline further to May 22, allowing her to finalise Britain’s preparations.
If she fails, it could crash out with no deal.
And her chances are slim. Without the support of the Brexiteers she met with yesterday, Ms May might not even bother to bring the deal forward for another vote in parliament, knowing she lacks the numbers.
MPs rejected the deal by 230 votes in January and 150 votes earlier this month. That is a lot of ground to make up.
But wait! There is even more to Ms May’s seemingly endless nightmare.
Members of parliament are expected to push for “indicative votes” on a range of different Brexit options throughout the week — a softer version of Brexit, or a second referendum, or anything else that takes their fancy.
The government has indicated it won’t stand in their way.
“I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the Prime Minister’s deal, and if that is the case, then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against, but what it is for,” Chancellor Philip Hammond said over the weekend.
What happens if parliament passes a motion in favour of something other than Ms May’s deal? Nobody knows.
More than 17 million Brits voted to leave the EU in 2016, by a margin of 52 per cent to 48. But remainers’ demands for a second referendum are growing stronger.
Organisers of an anti-Brexit march in central London on Saturday said more than a million people showed up. Meanwhile, more than three million Brits have signed a petition calling for Brexit to be cancelled.
Ms May has said she will “not countenance” revoking Article 50 and stopping the Brexit process.
But if she fails to get her deal passed this week, she might find she is no longer in control of the situation.
Originally published as ‘Time’s up’: Ultimatum rocks Britain