LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday toppling her would risk delaying Brexit and she would not let talk of a leadership challenge distract her from a critical week of negotiations.
Since unveiling a draft divorce deal with the European Union on Wednesday, May’s premiership has been thrust into crisis by the resignation of several ministers, including her Brexit minister, and some lawmakers from her own party seeking to oust her.
To trigger a confidence vote, 48 of her Conservative Party lawmakers must submit a letter to the chairman of the so-called 1922 committee, Graham Brady.
More than 20 lawmakers have said publicly that they have submitted a letter, but others are expected to have done so confidentially. Brady told BBC Radio on Sunday the 48 threshold had not yet been reached.
“These next seven days are going to be critical, they are about the future of this country,” May told Sky News. “I am not going to be distracted from the important job.
“A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier … what it will do is mean that there is a risk that actually we delay the negotiations and that is a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated.”
May said negotiating teams were working “as we speak” and she intended to go to Brussels and meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. She said she would also be speaking to other EU leaders ahead of an EU summit to discuss the deal on Nov. 25.
Several British newspapers reported that five senior pro-Brexit ministers were working together to pressure May to change the deal, but writing in the Sun on Sunday newspaper May said she saw no alternative plan on the table.
Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, who resigned on Thursday in protest at the deal, said he supported May as leader but her deal was “fatally flawed” and he did not think it would be approved by parliament. He said May must change course.
“I still think a deal could be done but it is very late in the day now and we need to change course,” Raab told the BBC. “The biggest risk of no deal is taking a bad deal to the House of Commons … it is very important to take the action now.”
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would vote against May’s deal when it came to parliament, but distanced himself from calls for a so-called people’s vote on the final agreement.
“It’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today, because if we had a referendum tomorrow, what’s it going to be on? What’s the question going to be?” Corbyn told Sky News.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said on Saturday that British pro-Brexit ministers were “not living in the real world” if they thought they could renegotiate the divorce treaty agreed with the EU last week.
Several British newspapers had reported that Leadsom was working with four other senior ministers and Brexit enthusiasts — Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Penny Mordaunt — to pressure May to change the deal.
Mordaunt, Raab, and five other top Conservatives — former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Raab’s predecessor David Davis, Interior Minister Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd — are all “actively preparing” leadership campaigns, the Sunday Times said.
More than 20 Conservative lawmakers have written to call for May to go, and a total 48 requests are needed to trigger a leadership contest.
The Sunday Times also reported Britain’s army had been ordered to step up contingency plans to help police maintain public order in case of food and medicine shortages after a “no deal” Brexit, citing an unnamed “well-placed army source.”