‘Hell week’ for May as Brexit endgame nears

Fever pitch: One MP told colleagues there will be a “leadership election within a week”. © Mercury News

Could Britain have a new leader by Christmas? As crunch talks with the European Union stalled once more, the prime minister’s job is threatened by rebellious MPs and resignations.

The end should be in sight. With six months to go until Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May is preparing to draw up her final deal. On Tuesday, she will attempt to secure the support of ministers in a crucial Cabinet meeting, before presenting the plan to EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday.

There will be a final EU summit next month and the Withdrawal Agreement will go to a parliamentary vote on November 27.

But each of these steps is fraught with peril for a prime minister facing rebellion on all sides.

It came after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on whose 10 votes May’s government relies in Parliament, threatened to vote down this month’s Budget if the Brexit deal includes any new barriers between the UK and Northern Ireland.

The EU previously suggested, to DUP outrage, that to avoid a hard border in Ireland the North could remain in the EU customs union while the rest of the UK leaves.

May is now considering an agreement that would temporarily keep the entire UK in the customs union while a solution to the Irish question is found. However, the EU is refusing to put a definite end date on such an arrangement.

Open-ended customs union membership is unacceptable not only to staunch Brexiteers, but to key Cabinet figures like Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab too.

“It is time for the Cabinet to exert their collective authority,” wrote former Brexit Secretary David Davis yesterday, urging ministers to rebel as rumours swirled that Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey could resign on Tuesday.

All the while, letters of no confidence from Tory MPs pile up on the desk of the 1922 committee. Reports say only a few more are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in May and a potential leadership election.

As tension mounts, Tory MPs are being threatened with a general election unless they back the deal May brings back from Brussels.

And as of last night, there were still disagreements on “key issues” between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

Could Britain have a new PM by Christmas?


It’s almost inevitable now, say some. It’s very unlikely May could survive a slew of resignations, and a vote of no confidence is now a real possibility. Even if she survives the week, the combined might of Corbyn’s Labour, the DUP and a growing number of Tory rebels will sink her Brexit deal in the Commons. There is no feasible way out.

It remains unlikely, counter others. While her position may appear precarious, none of the threats May faces are likely to be fatal. She can brush off resignations from less important ministers and when it comes to the crunch the vast majority of Tory MPs will not risk a Corbyn government by turning against May.

You Decide

  1. Will Theresa May still be prime minister at Christmas?
  2. How worrying is the prospect of a no-deal Brexit?


  1. Draw your own cartoon about Theresa May’s Brexit crisis. You could feature figures from the EU, the Tory party, the DUP or Labour. Try to draw exaggerated, caricatured versions of your subject.
  2. Make a list of eight ministers in the Cabinet. Create a profile for each which includes their stance on Brexit, their best Brexit quote and how loyal they are to the prime minister.

Some People Say...

“This is one of the most fundamental decisions that government has taken in modern times.”

David Davis

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
This week, Prime Minister Theresa May aims to finalise the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, but there are still major disagreements over issues such as the Northern Irish border. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab flew to Brussels for last-minute talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier last night, but after the discussions there were still disagreements over “key issues”.
What do we not know?
How close May really is to being ousted. Many Tory MPs still think now is not the right time to change their leader as a leadership election could take at least a month of valuable time in the run-up to Brexit.

Word Watch

EU summit
It had been hoped that the EU would sign off on the final Brexit deal at this summit. However, the meeting could be turned into an emergency summit for the EU to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit.
Parliamentary vote
If Parliament rejects the vote there could be a change of government or the UK could head for a no-deal Brexit.
A vote on the government’s budget for public spending. The vote is often regarded as akin to a vote of confidence in the government.
Hard border
Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is invisible. Some fear a return to the violence of the Troubles if a hard border is installed.
Customs union
An arrangement allowing EU member states to trade freely with each other because they have the same tariffs on goods imports outside the EU.
1922 committee.
A committee of backbench Tory MPs. The committee can launch a vote of no confidence and a leadership election if it receives letters calling for a vote from 15% — or 48 — of Tory MPs.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.