LONDON (Reuters) – Lawmakers in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party on Wednesday triggered a confidence vote in her leadership, plunging Britain’s planned divorce from the European Union into chaos.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London, Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
With less than four months left until the United Kingdom is due to exit on March 29, the world’s fifth largest economy was facing the prospect of a disorderly no deal divorce or another divisive referendum on Brexit.
Ministers lined up to express loyalty to May, who was due to speak from her Downing Street home.
Justice Secretary David Gauke warned that if she lost then Brexit would have to be delayed.
Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative Party’s so-called 1922 committee, said the threshold of 15 percent of the parliamentary party seeking a confidence vote had been exceeded.
A ballot will be held between 1800 and 2000 GMT on Wednesday in a room at the House of Commons and an announcement made as soon as possible afterwards, he said.
May could be toppled if 158 of her 315 lawmakers vote against her, though a big mutiny could also scupper her leadership.
Brexit is Britain’s most significant political and economic decision since World War Two.
The ultimate outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom, and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centers.
The British pound, which has lost 25 cents against the U.S. dollar since the 2016 referendum, fell on the news of a confidence vote but then rose to 1.2548 on news that Brexit might have to be delayed.
“SHE MUST GO”
Ever since formally triggering the Brexit divorce in March 2017, May has sought to find a way to keep Britain closely aligned with the EU after its exit.
But on Monday, she abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her deal in the face of ridicule from lawmakers. She then rushed to Europe in an attempt to get assurances from EU leaders about the deal.
Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused May of betraying Brexit in negotiations while opponents say she has negotiated a deal that is the worst of all worlds – out of the EU but with no say over the rules it has to abide by.
A schism over Europe in the Conservative Party over Britain’s relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three previous Conservative premiers – David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.
Brexiteers in her party have accused May of selling out Brexit in negotiations, though if they do manage to topple her, Brexit might be delayed, or even canceled.
“Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward,” lawmakers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a statement.
“But our Party will rightly not tolerate it. Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.”
But some ministers expressed support for her with Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying a leadership contest was the last thing Britain needed.
“The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong,” Javid said.
The EU’s top court ruled on Monday that Britain could cancel its official Article 50 notice to leave the bloc without permission from the other EU members and without losing any special privileges.
Justice Secretary Gauke said that if May lost, Brexit would have to be delayed.
“In terms of negotiating any type of arrangement with the European Union, I think it is inevitable that if she were to lose the vote tonight there would be need to be a delay in Article 50,” Gauke told BBC radio in an interview.
“I don’t think we would be leaving the European Union on the 29th of March.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Cawthorne