Theresa May delays latest Brexit bill amid mounting pressure to resign
Fellow Conservatives want PM to set her departure date
British Prime Minister Theresa May backed down Thursday from plans to seek Parliament's support for a Brexit bill already rejected by much of her Conservative Party. But she has not, as yet, caved in to demands she resign and let a new leader try to complete the U.K.'s stalled exit from the European Union.
With her authority draining away by the hour, May delayed plans to get lawmakers to vote on her European Union withdrawal bill — May's fourth and likely final attempt to secure Parliament's backing for her Brexit blueprint.
Conservative lawmakers increasingly see May as an obstacle to Britain's EU exit, although her replacement will face the same dilemma: a Parliament deeply divided over whether to leave the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with the bloc after it does.
Conservative legislators scheduled a Friday meeting, where they want May to announce her departure date.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the committee that oversees Conservative leadership races, said that if May did not agree to leave, there would be "overwhelming pressure" for a no-confidence vote in her.
If May does name an exit date, she will likely remain prime minister for several more weeks while Conservative lawmakers and members vote to choose a successor.
May's spokesperson, James Slack, insisted she would still be in office when U.S. President Donald Trump comes to Britain for a June 3-5 state visit.
"She looks forward to welcoming the president," he said.
But her last gambit, offering the prospect of a possible second referendum and closer trading arrangements with the EU, triggered a revolt by some Brexit-supporting ministers including the resignation of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom.
Senior Conservatives, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and several members of her cabinet, are already jockeying for position in the coming leadership race.
May moved quickly Thursday to replace Leadsom with former Treasury minister Mel Stride.
With 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 that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum, repeatedly failed to get Parliament's approval for a divorce deal she pitched as a way to heal the Brexit divisions of the country.
Digital Minister Margot James stood up for May, saying the prime minister was being "hounded out of office because Parliament will not make a decision and the parties just have an inability to compromise."
Should May stay on until next week, pressure is likely to increase when results come in from this week's elections for the European Parliament, with Conservatives expecting to receive a drubbing. Many British voters on both sides of the Brexit debate appear set to use the election to the EU legislature to express displeasure with the political gridlock.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted 52 to 48 per cent in a referendum 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.
Opinion polls show strong support for the single-issue Brexit Party — largely from angry former Conservative voters — and for pro-EU parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
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 on Sunday.
With files from Reuters