UK leader May fights leadership revolt,
warns Brexit in peril
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[December 12, 2018]
By Kylie MacLellan and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa
May vowed to fight for her job in a leadership challenge on Wednesday
triggered by Conservative lawmakers, saying a change could jeopardize
Britain's divorce from the European Union.
Less than four months until the United Kingdom is due to leave on March
29, Brexit is plunged into chaos with options ranging from a potentially
disorderly no-deal departure to another referendum that could reverse
Speaking outside her Downing Street residence hours before the vote of
confidence on her leadership, May said she would battle for her
premiership with everything she had.
In a stark warning to Brexit-supporting opponents who instigated the
challenge, May said if they toppled her then the EU exit would be
delayed and perhaps even stopped.
A new leader would not have time to renegotiate a deal with the EU and
secure parliamentary approval by the end of March, meaning the Article
50 withdrawal notice would have to be extended or rescinded, she said.
"A change of leadership in the Conservative Party now would put our
country's future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford
it," she said. "Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create
more division just as we should be standing together to serve our
A secret ballot will be held between 1800 and 2000 GMT on Wednesday in a
room at the House of Commons, and an announcement made at 2100. Before
the vote, May will speak to lawmakers at a closed meeting.
According to the rules, May could be toppled if a simple majority of
Conservative lawmakers vote against her, though a significant rebellion
could also undermine her position. At least 120 Conservative lawmakers
had expressed public support for her by 1120 GMT.
Brexit is Britain's most significant political and economic decision
since World War Two though pro-Europeans fear it will weaken the West as
it grapples with the presidency of Donald Trump and growing
assertiveness from Russia and China.
The outcome will shape Britain's $2.8 trillion economy, have far
reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom, and determine
whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial
The British pound, which has lost 25 cents against the U.S. dollar since
the 2016 referendum, fell on the confidence vote but then rose to 1.2533
on news that Brexit might have to be delayed.
"SHE MUST GO"
May, a 62-year-old vicar's daughter who voted to remain in the EU, won
the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 EU referendum but
promised to implement Brexit, while keeping close ties to the bloc, as a
way to heal a divided nation.
Widely praised for a punishing work ethic and a dutiful approach to
solving the Brexit divide, Mayís premiership has been characterized by
obduracy in the face of frequent crises.
Ever since formally triggering the Brexit divorce in March 2017, May has
tried to find a way to keep Britain closely aligned with the EU after
its exit - the essence of the divorce deal struck with Brussels last
But on Monday she abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her deal in
the face of ridicule from lawmakers and a probable rout. She then rushed
to Europe to seek assurances from EU leaders about the deal.
[to top of second column]
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10
Downing Street after it was announced that the Conservative Party
will hold a vote of no confidence in her leadership, in London,
Britain, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The EU has insisted it will not renegotiate but some of the blocís
leaders have suggested Britain could still change its mind on
Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused May of
betraying the people's vote in negotiations while opponents say she
struck a deal that is the worst of all worlds - out of the EU but
with no say over many rules it has to abide by.
"Theresa Mayís plan would bring down the government if carried
forward," lawmakers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a
"But our Party will rightly not tolerate it. Conservatives must now
answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under
Mrs Mayís leadership. In the national interest, she must go."
SCHISM IN THE UK
A schism over Europe in the Conservative Party over Britain's
relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three
previous Conservative premiers - David Cameron, John Major and
Cameron bet all on a referendum he lost in 2016.
Now, May - whose personal standing was already weakened by a snap
election last year which cost her a parliamentary majority - also
sees her own fate at risk over Europe.
Senior ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip
Hammond, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary
Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid expressed support for
her. They warned that changing leader at such an important moment in
British history was folly.
But as investors and company bosses tried to gauge the ultimate
outcome of the political crisis, some were betting that Brexit would
The EU's top court ruled on Monday that Britain could cancel its
Article 50 notice to leave without permission from other members and
without losing special privileges.
Both May's ruling Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party
are publicly committed to carrying out Brexit.
A no-deal Brexit, though, is seen as so disruptive to trade and the
economy that parliament would be under pressure to block it.
"I am backing the prime minister 100 percent," said Gove, the most
senior Brexiteer in May's government. "She is battling hard for our
country and no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the
British peopleís decision to leave the EU."
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Andy Bruce, Michael Holden,
Paul Sandle and William James; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing
by Andrew Cawthorne)
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