LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted on Monday she did not have the backing to pass her European Union withdrawal deal as some in her party called on her to quit and parliament plotted to wrest the Brexit process away from her government.
At one of the most important junctures for the country in at least a generation, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years after the 2016 EU membership referendum, it was 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 that she name a date to leave office.
Amid the chaos, it was unclear if or when May would bring the divorce deal she agreed with the EU back to parliament. The deal was defeated in parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15.
“It is with great regret that I have had to conclude that as things stand there is still not sufficient support in the House (of Commons) to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote,” May told members of parliament (MPs).
Last week, the EU agreed to delay Britain’s original March 29 departure date because of the deadlock in London. Now, it will leave the EU on May 22 if May’s deal is approved by parliament this week. If not, it will have until April 12 to outline its plans.
May refused to give up on her deal passing eventually, noting that the alternatives were unpalatable to her and that there was no evidence of a majority in parliament for anything except the principle of avoiding an abrupt ‘no-deal’ exit.
“Unless this House agrees to it, ‘no deal’ will not happen. ‘No Brexit’ must not happen,” May said.
She said another referendum, a new agreement, or not leaving the EU were among the alternatives that had no majority.
The bottom line remained that if her deal and ‘no deal’ were rejected, Britain would have to seek a longer delay to Brexit.
“And a ‘slow Brexit’, which extends Article 50 beyond May 22 May, forces the British people to take part in European Elections and gives up control of any of our borders, laws, money or trade, is not a Brexit that will bring the British people together,” May said.
With speculation swirling around her future, parliament prepared to try to seize control of the Brexit process from the government in a series of votes due from 10 p.m. (2200 GMT).
May said such a move would set an unwelcome precedent and the government would oppose it.