May likely to lose Brexit vote
Cabinet ministers have told Theresa May to come up with an 11th hour plan to get her Brexit deal through the House of Commons as the Chief Whip admitted she would lose Tuesday’s vote.
The Prime Minister was confronted in Downing Street by Amber Rudd and other senior ministers who demanded to know what she intended to do to salvage the vote and her Brexit deal.
During the crisis meeting called by Mrs May, ministers offered her four options including a postponement of the vote but came away exasperated when she refused to commit to any of them.
At one point a frustrated Ms Rudd asked her: “What do you want to do, Prime Minister?”
He received a non-committal reply.
Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, conceded for the first time that the Government was heading for defeat over the withdrawal agreement and the ministers warned Mrs May that a defeat by 200 votes was not impossible. Mrs May is understood to have agreed with them that such a catastrophic defeat had to be avoided at all costs.
Cabinet sources said ministers were already forming into groups that would present Mrs May with alternative ways forward at the weekend.
At least 12 ministers are understood to favour postponing the vote, with Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary and former chief whip, among the most vociferous.
However, Mrs May would have to ask Parliament’s permission to do this, running the risk that she could be humiliated by being forced to go ahead with the vote against her will.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, told the House of Commons it was “simply a delusion” to believe that Brussels would offer Britain a better deal at this late stage, which could undermine any attempt by Mrs May to persuade rebel MPs otherwise.
Mrs May held her one-hour meeting with nine members of her Cabinet after summoning them to Downing Street.
She has survived scandals, losing majority government, mass Cabinet resignations and an attempted coup by Tory rebels. Her Conservative Government has been found guilty of contempt of Parliament for the first time in British history.
But on Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May will face the greatest challenge yet to her survival when the British Parliament votes on whether to endorse her plan for how Britain should leave the European Union.
Every sign points to the deal being voted down, although by what margin is unclear.
What is clear, though, is that next week is shaping up to be a monumental one in British politics — it could end with a Brexit deal, a snap general election, a second referendum, a no-deal, off-the-cliff-edge Brexit, or even a new prime minister.
May, 62, has until then to convince hostile members of Parliament that her Brexit deal is the best they’re going to get.
“We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people,” she said this week.
So heroically lacking in charisma that she’s known as the Maybot, May has eschewed any phony charm offensive and instead gone for pure pragmatism, urging MPs to “do their duty” and deliver the results the people voted for in 2016 when they voted, narrowly, to leave the European Union.
The senior lecturer in government at the University of Essex, Tom Quinn, said next week loomed for May as “the most serious threat to her premiership to date”. “It is hard to see how she survives the fall of a deal in which she has invested so much political capital,” Dr Quinn said.
“It is not yet clear what the Plan B is if May’s deal fails, but whatever it is, it would almost certainly need a new prime minister to advocate it.”
Britain’s first female prime minister since the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, May won the Tory party leadership in 2016 after David Cameron quit in response to the Brexit referendum result.
Her rival, Andrea Leadsom, stood aside after a newspaper interview where she intimated she would make a better prime minister than May because May didn’t have children. (May has previously spoken of her sadness that she and husband Philip were unable to conceive.)
May had voted Remain, although she professed to being a “Eurosceptic”, and the price of winning the Tory leadership was the job of trying to manage Britain’s divorce from the European Union after 45 years.
Untangling the tens of thousands of laws and regulations which keep the UK bound to the 27 other countries of the bloc has brought her to the brink of political oblivion numerous times, and her latest deal, which legal advice shows would potentially tie the UK to the EU “indefinitely” through a Northern Ireland backstop, has succeeded in uniting Brexiteer and Remainer MPs against her.
But May has continued to fight for the plan, and is spending five days in the House of Commons pleading her case, talking economy, trade, financial markets, immigration, and always appealing to the head and not the heart.
It’s how she has spent her entire career. The only child of an Anglican Church vicar and a housewife, Theresa Mary Brasier was born on October 1, 1956, in Eastbourne in Sussex, a bright child who later went to Oxford University to study geography.
It was here she met her future husband, fellow student Phillip, after a mutual friend, future Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, introduced them at a dance. Phillip May later said it was “love at first sight”.
They married in 1980 and have been inseparable for the past 38 years. She refers to her financier husband as her rock.
She was orphaned at the age of 25 when her parents died a few months apart — her father in a car accident and her mother from the effects of multiple sclerosis.
Like her husband, she enjoyed a successful career in finance. May entered politics in 1997 when she first won her seat of Maidenhead in wealthy west Berkshire, west of London, where her constituents include disgraced Australian children’s entertainer Rolf Harris and the residents of the Queen’s weekend home, Windsor Castle.
Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street.
May in the House of Commons this week.