Theresa May fails to budge pro-Brexit backers

UK prime minister calls emergency meeting to discuss the way forward after weekend of plot rumours

FILE PHOTO:  A pro-Brexit protester holds a banner as anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament, ahead of a vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, in London, Britain, January 15, 2019. To match package "BRITAIN-EU/TIMELINE" REUTERS/Henry Nicholls /File Photo
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Theresa May has called an emergency meeting of her mutinous cabinet on Monday to discuss new plans for leaving the European Union after a weekend meeting of key Brexit backers failed to make a breakthrough.

UK government ministers said that no decision had been made on whether the prime minister would make a third attempt to push her own plans through after two heavy defeats by parliament.

After a weekend of feverish speculation about her own position and a march of up to a million people against Brexit through central London, Mrs May faced further demands to step down as the price for getting her deal through parliament.

The UK's best-selling newspaper The Sun said: "Time's Up, Theresa" on its front page and called for her to quit. Eleven Cabinet ministers had told The Sunday Times that they wanted her to be replaced, but two of the men most likely to succeed her backed her leadership.

Although the coup failed to materialise, Mrs May was suffering a major loss of authority with a series of outspoken attacks on her leadership from within her own party.

Her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who quit over her strategy last year, claimed that the government had “chickened out” by failing to leave the European Union at the end of this week, as had been originally planned.

"I believed that the PM genuinely had March 29 inscribed in her heart," he wrote in a column for The Telegraph.

“I am afraid I misread the government. We have blinked. We have baulked. We have bottled it completely.”

Mr Johnson was one of a number of key Brexit backers who attended a meeting on Sunday at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, to try to find a way to get her deal through parliament.

The meeting broke up without any of the key players publicly backing Mrs May’s plans amid reports that some asked her for a timetable of when she would leave her post. She defeated a previous rebellion against her in December.

Mrs May’s minority government relies on a small Northern Irish party to get enough support to pass legislation. But the Democratic Unionists have already come out against the plan and rebels within her own party seem likely to consign any new vote to defeat.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox said there would only be a vote on her plan this week if enough support for it to get through appeared.

But he said that a largely remain-supporting parliament was out of step with the public that backed a 2016 referendum to leave the EU in what would be Britain’s biggest policy shift for decades.

Britain has until April 11 to come up with a workable plan. If it fails, the UK would crash out of the EU without a deal or be forced to seek a longer delay, which would mean holding elections to the European parliament.

“The worst thing would be not to deliver on Brexit,” Mr Fox told the BBC. He said few MPs would like to campaign for European elections.

“There’s nothing like a little bit of self-interest to concentrate their minds” to get a deal through, he said.

The government is seeking to block efforts by parliament to wrest control of the process later on Monday by holding a series of votes to indicate how they would like the process to run.

Oliver Letwin, a ruling Conservative party politician who is pushing the move said: “I think MPs do recognise that we have a terrible problem here. Let’s focus on the problem.”