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Brexit insurgency threatens Theresa May’s revised plan and her leadership

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By Alasdair Sandford
Brexit insurgency threatens Theresa May’s revised plan and her leadership
Copyright  REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

This article originally published on April 23 has been updated to report new developments.

The UK’s beleaguered prime minister will attempt to breathe fresh life into the Brexit process as parliament returns from the Easter break, amid renewed manoeuvres to oust her from within her own increasingly vexed Conservative party.

Theresa May's office proudly tweeted that the St George’s Cross was flying above Downing Street to celebrate the feast day of England’s patron saint, but she certainly isn’t appreciating the insurgency against her leadership over her perceived capitulation to Europe.

May chaired a cabinet meeting, while ministers met leading figures from the opposition Labour Party to seek progress towards a compromise plan capable of gaining parliamentary support. Nothing substantial has come from several weeks of cross-party talks.

Unless the House of Commons approves an exit deal in the next few weeks, the UK will have to hold elections for the European Parliament in late May – almost three years after it voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU.

European campaigns launched

Tuesday also saw Change UK, the new pro-EU party formed by breakaway Tory and Labour MPs, launch its European election campaign – aiming for a second “people’s vote” referendum.

It has ruled out forming a “pro-Remain alliance” with other parties because of electoral rules. However, it’s thought this could be to their detriment in terms of winning seats under the European system of proportional representation.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party unveiled more candidates following its recent launch. The former UKIP leader is on a roll in the early running, a YouGov survey suggesting his new party could top the European poll.

All this follows the agreement by EU leaders to delay the date of the UK’s departure until October 31, amid the impasse over the negotiated Brexit deal which was rejected by parliament three times.

Read more:

EU leaders give Theresa May a Brexit delay until October 31

EU Parliament poll: Farage's Brexit Party surges as Eurosceptic groups rise

May faces Tory fury

Anger at Theresa May’s failure to deliver on promises over the UK’s EU departure has been increasing in Tory circles – although the government and her supporters say parliament's failure to approve the withdrawal deal is the reason why Brexit has not happened. A survey by ConservativeHome of more than 1,100 party members found that 60 percent were planning to vote for the Brexit Party in the European elections.

Against this backdrop, senior Tory backbenchers met to consider ways to precipitate a challenge to Theresa May’s leadership – but rejected a change to current rules which prevent such a move until December, a year since the last failed attempt to remove her.

At the same time, local Conservative activists are mounting their own moves against the prime minister, with calls for a vote of no-confidence. Polling has suggested that a majority of the party’s membership favours a “no deal” Brexit – despite the disruption such a rupture in UK-EU trading and other relations would bring.

The prime minister has vowed to step down once a withdrawal deal is ratified. But the mutiny over her leadership has only intensified, amid what one leading backbencher has described as a “clamour” for her removal.

That in turn has cast doubt over the chances of success for the government’s talks with Labour, who want a post-Brexit permanent customs union with the EU – anathema to many Tories. The opposition fear that May will be replaced by a hardline Brexiteer who would throw out any agreement.

No end in sight to the uncertainty

The ongoing turmoil in British politics merely serves to increase the uncertainty surrounding Brexit itself.

EU leaders are due to assess Britain’s progress over Brexit at a European Council summit on June 20-21.

If the British deadlock persists, come the autumn EU leaders risk being confronted with another potentially divisive decision on whether to extend the process once again.

But the intervening months provide ample opportunity for unforeseen events to upend any foolhardy attempt to predict the next Brexit twists and turns.

Read more:

What's in Theresa May's Brexit deal and why is it so unpopular?

No-deal Brexit: everything you need to know

Brexit Guide: where are we now?

No legacy is so rich as honesty
William Shakespeare
Born April 23 1564 - Died April 23 1616