Brexit crunch time: May teeters on the brink

Into the void: “There will be difficult days ahead,” said Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday.

How long can she survive? The Cabinet has backed Theresa May’s draft Brexit agreement after a bruising five-hour showdown. But some say the prime minister will not last much longer.

We are one step closer to Brexit, for now.

After securing a draft withdrawal agreement with the European Union (EU) this week, Prime Minister Theresa May needed to convince her Cabinet to agree to the plan. Last night she won its support, but only just.

It was a “detailed and impassioned debate”, May said of the meeting, but insisted the deal will secure a “brighter future for our country”.

Not everybody agrees. Reports describe several ministers being “railroaded” into backing the plan, and a “massive bust-up” between May and the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey.

But why was the proposal so divisive?

The key issue is trade. There will be a 21-month transition period for the UK to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU. If one is not agreed upon by then, a “backstop” arrangement will keep the UK aligned with EU rules. This is to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and will only cease when Britain and the EU reach a “joint” decision.

Some MPs claim this will keep the UK tethered to the EU’s rules for years to come. Jacob Rees-Mogg called it a “rotten deal” and urged MPs to vote it down.

Rumours also swirled of a growing plot to oust May. It takes just 48 rebels to trigger a “no confidence” vote which could spell her downfall.

But scheming ministers are the least of her worries. In December, the deal will be voted on in the House of Commons. Several things could happen if it is rejected: a general election, a second referendum, fresh negotiations or a “no-deal Brexit”. In each case, May would have to go.

Right now, her chances of victory are not good.

May’s allies from the Democratic Unionist Party have serious concerns about the deal. The Scottish Nationalists have vowed to vote it down, and Labour almost certainly will too — not to mention the dozens of rebels in her own party.

Is Theresa May’s time almost up?

A dog’s Brexit

Without a doubt, some argue. Hard-line factions within the Conservative Party are seething. To them this deal is a betrayal of what Brexit promised; the only solution is for May to go. Expect them to try to oust her in the coming days. Even if that fails, May cannot outfox Parliament. The Commons vote is stacked impossibly against her, and she will be gone before Christmas.

Not necessarily, others respond. Remember the bigger picture. In convincing Cabinet to back her plan, May has won another key battle. She will not stop fighting now. Furthermore, the Commons vote is not a foregone conclusion. Tories fear the general election which her defeat could spark, and moderates are terrified of a no-deal Brexit. May’s deal could be a compromise enough MPs are willing to swallow.

You Decide

  1. Is Brexit a good idea?
  2. Will Theresa May last much longer?


  1. Consider the term “Brexit”. In one minute, write down all the words that you associate with it. Share your ideas with the class. Are they mostly positive or negative words? Why do you have this impression of Brexit?
  2. Watch Theresa May’s Brexit statement by following the link in Become An Expert. Pay attention to the language she uses. How does she want the viewer to feel about Brexit? How is her language effective? Does she come across as an inspirational leader?

Some People Say...

“I’ve been clear that Brexit means Brexit.”

Theresa May

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The EU Withdrawal Bill confirms that the UK will pay £39 billion to the EU in order to fund its outstanding obligations. It also outlines policies regarding the rights of settled citizens, the length of the transition period, and the terms of the backstop. However, all of this has to be ratified by each of the 27 EU member states.
What do we not know?
There is still a lot to be negotiated, including rules on immigration and the future economic relationship between Britain and the EU. We do not know if there are enough Tory rebels to trigger a no confidence vote. Even if there are, Theresa May would not necessarily lose the contest. Likewise, there is still a chance she could pass her Brexit plan through the Commons, albeit a very slim one.

Word Watch

Withdrawal agreement
The deal only covers issues relating to Britain’s exit from the EU. It does not confirm any details pertaining to the future relationship between the two.
Committee of senior ministers responsible for controlling government policy.
The Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU. Any change in the status of Northern Ireland would impact how goods and people move between the two. Politicians are desperate to avoid a hard border for fear it could jeopardise peace in the region.
No confidence
Theresa May would need the support of half of her MPs to stay in power. If she wins, another vote cannot be called for a year.
May lost her parliamentary majority in the disastrous 2017 general election. Since then she has relied on the support of 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain her majority in the Commons.

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