British PM May in peril over Brexit on EU election day
LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May was under intense pressure to name a date for her departure after her final Brexit gambit failed, overshadowing a European election that will show a United Kingdom still riven by divisions over its EU divorce.
With the deadlock in London, the world’s fifth largest economy faces an array of options including an orderly exit with a deal, a no-deal exit, an election or a second referendum.
May, who won the top job in the turmoil which followed the 2016 referendum on EU membership, has repeatedly failed to get parliament’s approval for the divorce deal she pitched as a way to heal the Brexit divisions of the country.
READ: EU elections kick off as Dutch polls open
READ: May stares at defeat in final Brexit gambit
But her last gambit, offering a possible second referendum and closer trading arrangements with the EU, triggered a revolt by some Brexit-supporting ministers. House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom resigned and the BBC said more ministers could follow.
“I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result,” Leadsom, once a challenger to May to become prime minister, said in a resignation letter.
May, who has shown obduracy during one of the most tumultuous premierships of recent British history, had promised to leave office if lawmakers approved her Brexit deal but she is now under intense pressure to name a date.
READ: Populists looking to cause upsets as EU elections begin
Sterling, which tumbled on the 2016 Brexit vote to its biggest one-day fall since the early 1970s, was trading on Thursday at US$1.26. The yield on the United Kingdom’s 10-year gilt fell to 0.991 per cent, the lowest since Mar 29, the day Britain had been due to leave the EU.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU, it remains unclear how, when or even if it will leave the European club it joined in 1973. The current deadline to leave is Oct 31.
When May goes, her Conservative Party will elect a leader who is likely to want to renegotiate the deal May agreed with the EU in November, raising the chances of a confrontation with the bloc.
The bookmakers’ favourite to succeed May is Boris Johnson, the face of the official campaign to leave the EU, who has said he wants a more decisive split with the bloc.
US investment bank JPMorgan raised its probability of a no-deal Brexit to 25 per cent from 15 per cent this week, saying its base case is that Johnson becomes prime minister, followed by a general election and then another delay to Brexit.
The chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, told lawmakers that May planned to campaign in the European poll on Thursday before meeting with the group on Friday to discuss her leadership.
The Times newspaper reported that May would name a date for her departure on Friday. May will remain as prime minister while her successor is elected in a two-stage process, the newspaper said.
“I will be meeting the prime minister on Friday following her campaigning in the European elections tomorrow and following that meeting I will be consulting with the 1922 executive,” 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady told reporters.
The delay to Brexit means voters across the United Kingdom are going to the polls on Thursday in a European parliamentary election that has been fought almost exclusively over the EU divorce.
According to polling data published before polls opened, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was on course to win and May’s Conservatives are on course to do very badly.
Results are expected after 2100 GMT on Sunday.