Prime Minister Theresa May is battling to keep control of Britain’s exit from the European Union as some in her party called on her to quit and parliament plotted to wrest the Brexit process away from her government.
Nearly three years since the 2016 EU membership referendum, it is still unclear how, when or if Brexit will take place.
With May weakened, ministers lined up to insist she was still in charge and to deny any part in, or knowledge of, a reported plot to demand she name a date to leave office.
As speculation swirled around May’s future, parliament prepared to try to take control of the Brexit process from the government in a series of votes due from 10pm local time.
May’s divided cabinet of senior ministers met on Monday to discuss a way forward, May’s spokesman said, though contradictory reports of the discussions – which are supposed to remain private – were swiftly published on Twitter.
“The PM opened by suggesting that no deal is not a viable option,” the Daily Telegraph’s deputy political editor Steven Swinford said. “Other ministers said no deal is better than no Brexit.” Other reports said her cabinet “war-gamed” an election.
Amid the chaos, it was unclear when May would bring her divorce deal back to parliament. The deal May negotiated with the EU was defeated in parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on January 15.
“We will only bring the vote back if we believe that we would be in a position to win it,” May’s spokesman said, declining to comment on whether it would take place on Tuesday.
May had to delay Britain’s original March 29 departure date because of the deadlock in London.
Now, the country will leave the EU on May 22 if May’s deal is approved by parliament this week. If not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty.
To get the deal passed, she must win over at least 75 MPs – dozens of rebels in her Conservative Party, some opposition Labour Party MPs and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her minority government.
May had a call with DUP leader Arlene Foster after the cabinet meeting, but a party spokesman said he did not see the DUP supporting the deal.
To hold a vote on Tuesday, the government must present an emergency business motion by the close of business on Monday.
The EU believes a no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely, EU officials said.
“We don’t want a no-deal Brexit, we’d much rather have the Withdrawal Agreement, but if it is to be a no deal, let’s do it quickly,” the EU official said of the bloc’s approach.
“Time’s up, Theresa,” Rupert Murdoch’s influential The Sun newspaper said in a front page editorial. It said her one chance of getting her Brexit deal approved by parliament was to name a date for her departure.
Some MPs publicly called for her to go.
“The prime minister does not have the confidence of the parliamentary party,” said Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative MP who supports Brexit.
“She clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the cabinet and she certainly doesn’t have the confidence of our members out there in the country.”