LONDON – Theresa May is facing pressure to abandon her Brexit deal and quit as British prime minister within days, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several senior government officials said they were shocked that the premier’s new offer intended to win votes in Parliament for her European Union divorce agreement had been so badly received so quickly.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the individuals said May’s allies know there is little hope of her Withdrawal Agreement Bill passing a crucial vote in the House of Commons, even after she promised MPs the chance to call a second referendum on Brexit.
The premier was set to make the case for her “new deal” in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. But with a fourth humiliating defeat for her plan now looking likely, May’s Conservative Party colleagues will urge her to cancel the vote, planned for the first week of June.
That will leave her with little reason to carry on as prime minister. A number of officials inside the party believe she will face intense pressure from her own ministers to quit and make way for a new leader to try to deliver Brexit.
“I will not vote for it,” wrote Boris Johnson, the most senior pro-Brexit candidate who wants to replace May as Tory leader, tweeted. “We can and must do better — and deliver what the people voted for.”
The speculation over May’s future intensified after she made a desperate final gamble to get her Brexit deal through the British Parliament before she’s thrown out of office.
In a hastily arranged speech Tuesday, the embattled Conservative leader promised to give Parliament a vote on whether to call another referendum to ratify Britain’s divorce from the EU. While May opposes another plebiscite, it’s something many MPs — including scores in the opposition Labour Party — have been calling for. May made her offer conditional on MPs backing her overall deal first.
In a hint that the vote could yet be pulled, May’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove refused to confirm that MPs would still be given a chance to vote in the week of June 3, as previously promised. “I think we will reflect over the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward,” he told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer urged May to cancel the vote, saying the package is “too weak” and is heading for a “heavy loss” when it’s put to vote in Parliament.
“In reality, the prime minister ought to now admit defeat and I think she would do well to just pull the vote and pause, because this is going nowhere,” he told BBC Radio 4.
Within minutes of her speech ending, the backlash began. Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs joined opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and May’s Northern Irish allies to condemn her proposals. They vowed to vote against them in the House of Commons next month.
The failure of May’s deal would throw the U.K. into renewed turmoil and uncertainty. The outcome of Brexit would be almost impossible to predict as it will be left to May’s successor as Tory leader and prime minister to complete the process.
Leaving the EU with no deal, or even remaining inside the bloc could be back on the table once May is gone. Johnson, who has said he’d be prepared to leave without an agreement, is the front-runner in the leadership race that’s unofficially under way.
May’s offer represents possibly the final throw of the dice for a prime minister who has all but run out of options. Almost three years after the U.K. voted to exit the EU, May’s deal has been rejected three times by Parliament.
She’s tried cross-party talks to work out a joint plan with Corbyn, but they collapsed last week. Nonetheless, on Wednesday, May sent a letter to Corbyn asking him to compromise and back her new deal.
In her letter, the premier set out to convince the Labour leader she’s moved in the key areas he wanted changed, including on a second referendum, and on worker’s rights. Even the dispute over the future U.K.-EU customs relationship can still be resolved, she said.
“I have shown today that I am willing to compromise to deliver Brexit for the British people,” May wrote. “I ask you to compromise too so that we can deliver what both our parties promised in our manifestos and restore faith in our politics.”
For its part, her party is now bracing for defeat in European elections Thursday — a poll the U.K. wasn’t meant to take part in and has been forced to because Brexit has been delayed.
May has already promised to work with her party on a timetable for electing her successor after the vote on the Bill takes place. The question now is whether her Tory critics allow her that much time.