Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for her weekly Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London, May 15, 2019. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP)
LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May remains focused on delivering Brexit and will meet with ministers on Thursday, her spokesman said, amid calls for her to resign after her latest plan for leaving the European Union was widely criticised.
The spokesman said a visit by US President Donald Trump next week would go ahead as planned, and that May was looking forward to welcoming him.
James Slack's remarks came after media reports said May was expected on Friday to announce her departure from office.
May will remain as prime minister while her successor is elected in a
two-stage process under which two final candidates face a ballot of 125,000
Conservative Party members, The Times reported.
But Slack insisted she would still be in the post when US President Donald Trump comes to Britain for a June 3-5 state visit.
"She looks forward to welcoming the president," he said.
Meanwhile, BBC Radio reported that more British ministers could resign from May's government, following the Leader of the House of
Commons Andrea Leadsom who quit late on Wednesday.
As the pro-Brexit faction within May’s Cabinet discussed how to coordinate their revolt, the most senior rank-and-file members of her Conservative Party held a crisis meeting to weigh up whether to throw her out
"This program has been told other ministers could soon follow," the BBC Today program reported on Thursday.
HANGING BY THREAD
May’s premiership is hanging by a thread as Leadsom quit and a growing revolt over Brexit looked set to force the British leader from power, according to Bloomberg.
Leadsom resigned late on Wednesday, saying she no longer believed the government’s approach will honor the result of the 2016 referendum. May said she was "sorry" Leadsom had quit, while rejecting her reasons for doing so. The premier’s office said she would stay focused on delivering Brexit.
Leadsom and other ministers spent much of Wednesday in private talks plotting to kill May’s last-gasp plan to use a possible second referendum to get her divorce agreement through Parliament. As the pro-Brexit faction within May’s Cabinet discussed how to coordinate their revolt, the most senior rank-and-file members of her Conservative Party held a crisis meeting to weigh up whether to throw her out.
May’s key piece of Brexit legislation isn’t listed for debate in the first week of June, as had been planned. Instead, the prime minister is revising the draft and discussing it with ministers.
The Leader of the House of Commons’ Twitter feed published the order of business for the first week back after the recess and the Brexit bill isn’t on it.
However, there’s still a plan to publish the bill in the week of June, government whip Mark Spencer told Parliament. May is discussing the text of the legislation with ministers, her spokesman told reporters on Thursday. The government still hopes to put it to a vote that week.
The original plan was for May to put the bill to a vote the first week of June. After that ballot she would set out a timetable for her departure and the leadership race to replace her. With speculation mounting that May could resign within days, this could soon all be moot.
The pound fell as investors braced for the prospect that a pro-Brexit hardliner will succeed May, and could rip Britain out of the European Union with no deal to cushion the blow.
Andrea Leadsom, UK leader of the House of Commons, leaves after attending a weekly meeting of Cabinet ministers at number 10 Downing Street in London, UK, on May 21, 2019. (CHRIS RATCHLIFFE / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Wednesday was a day when May’s authority appeared visibly to drain away. As she spoke in the Commons, May’s colleagues paid little attention to what she said. Many did not even show up to watch the prime minister set out her "bold" new plan for Brexit.
On Thursday, the UK holds a set of elections for the European Parliament that the premier hoped she’d never have to hold, and her party is bracing for a drubbing.
With May’s time in office drawing to a close, the fate of Brexit looks set to be decided by her successor.
NOT WHAT WE AGREED
The trigger for the unrest was the prime minister’s announcement on Tuesday of a package of measures aimed at getting her Brexit deal through Parliament. The proposals, which included a temporary customs union and the possibility of a second referendum to ratify the divorce deal, shocked pro-Brexit ministers who complained it wasn’t what they had agreed to in Cabinet.
"I do not believe that we will be a truly sovereign United Kingdom through the deal that is now proposed,” Leadsom wrote in her letter to May. "I have always maintained that a second referendum would be dangerously divisive and I do not support the government willingly facilitating such a concession."
With May’s time in office drawing to a close, the fate of Brexit looks set to be decided by her successor
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who’s also concerned about the referendum proposal, asked to meet May, but was rebuffed. Other ministers including Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also sought meetings.
The irony for May is that those who have been arguing for a second referendum don’t think her offer goes far enough, and so the concession that has cost her support on the Conservative side has also failed to win new backers from the opposition.
Throughout the day, the corridors of Parliament buzzed with intrigue as MPs discussed May’s future. Many Tories, including senior government officials, believe she has just days left before she’s forced to announce her resignation. One official said the situation looked bleak, while another said it felt like the end.
The powerful so-called 1922 Committee of rank-and-file Conservatives, which oversees leadership elections, met in the late afternoon to discuss whether to change the party’s rules to make it easier to oust the premier. Chief Whip Julian Smith met with them but stayed for just two minutes, departing without speaking to the waiting press.
Two people familiar with the situation said the panel decided not to change party rules to allow for an earlier vote of no confidence to get rid of May. Current rules don’t allow Tories to hold a ballot until a year after she survived the last one, in December.
Polling in recent weeks indicates the Tories are set for a humiliating defeat in Thursday’s European vote, falling behind the Brexit Party led by the resurgent figurehead of the 2016 referendum campaign, Nigel Farage, as well as Labour and the Liberal Democrats
Committee Chairman Graham Brady told reporters he will meet with May on Friday after she campaigns in the European elections on Thursday. Then, he said he’ll meet with the committee executive to discuss next steps. Both The Times and The Daily Mail reported on Thursday that May is expected to announce the timetable for her departure on Friday.
Polling in recent weeks indicates the Tories are set for a humiliating defeat in Thursday’s European vote, falling behind the Brexit Party led by the resurgent figurehead of the 2016 referendum campaign, Nigel Farage, as well as Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Outlining her plans in the Commons earlier, May insisted she had a “duty” to ask Parliament to try to pass the agreement she negotiated with the EU. She promised her Withdrawal Agreement Bill would go to a vote -- and that the question of a second referendum will need to be faced.
“While I’m here I have a duty to be clear with the house about the facts. If we’re going to deliver Brexit in this Parliament we’re going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill and we’re not going to be able to without holding votes on those issues that have divided us the most,’’ she said.
May has promised Brady that she’ll spell out next month a timetable for her departure, after holding a vote on her Brexit legislation. But the signs are she may not even have that long.
“Politics is a nasty, sometimes brutal, ghastly business,” former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith told TalkRadio, adding that May’s successor could be in place before Parliament’s summer break. “It’s time to go.”
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