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UK PM faces no confidence threat as 4 ministers quit in fresh Brexit jolt

Last updated on: November 15, 2018 23:22 IST

Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday faced a possible "coup" after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Indian-origin minister Shailesh Vara and two other ministers resigned from her divided Cabinet over UK's "half-baked" divorce deal with the European Union.

Minutes after Vara stepped down as Northern Ireland minister, Prime Minister May was hit by a bigger blow as her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned from the Cabinet saying he "cannot in good conscience" support the draft of the withdrawal agreement with the 28-member bloc.

Amidst a spate of resignations, prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg directly challenged 62-year-old May in the House of Commons. He later submitted a letter of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party.

 

May's opponents need 48 letters from Tory MPs to trigger the confidence vote. However, Brexiter Tory MPs are nowhere near the numbers they need (158) to defeat May in a confidence vote, British media reported.

Rees-Mogg told reporters that "coup" is the wrong word, as he is following legitimate means to try and oust the prime minister.

"Leaving the European Union is the most fantastic opportunity for the United Kingdom. This opportunity is being thrown away," he said.

"The problem is that the negotiations have given way on all the key points," the Conservative lawmaker said.

Another Conservative MP, Henry Smith has also submitted his letter, requesting a vote of no confidence in May.

Rory Stewart, a minister of state at the Ministry of Justice, attacked MPs attempting to trigger a leadership challenge against May, saying it "feels like a sort of coup d'etat taking place in Parliament."

Earlier, Vara, the Conservative Party MP for North-West Cambridgeshire, who has been a minister in the Northern Ireland Office since January, said, "We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown that they do not have our best interests at heart. We can and must do better than this. The people of the UK deserve better."

He attacked the draft withdrawal agreement which would form the basis of the UK's exit from the EU by March, 29, 2019 as a "half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation".

The resignation of Raab, the man involved with the actual drafting of the agreement with EU counterparts, throws Prime Minister May's leadership in turmoil.

Raab, who took charge as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU after his predecessor David Davis stepped down in protest over May's Brexit negotiations in July, said the proposed arrangement to avoid a post-Brexit border with Northern Ireland is a "very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom".

Raab's resignation was followed by another pro-Brexit minister, work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, announcing that she is resigning from the Cabinet over the issue. Another junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman quit over Brexit, shortly after her former boss Raab quit office.

The resignations are being seen as a sign of bigger troubles ahead for May, who defended the deal before belligerent MPs in the House of Commons.

Making a statement on the withdrawal agreement, dubbed the Outline Political Declaration, at the heart of the intensifying rebellion, May said she respected the views of her Cabinet members who chose to resign but delivering Brexit involves difficult choices.

"The choice is clear. We can choose to leave with no deal. We can risk no Brexit at all. Or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated....," the defiant prime minister said.

While she claimed the Cabinet had collectively given its backing to her deal, many ministers had spoken out against it and were not entirely happy with the final text.

The biggest sticking point remains over what is termed as a Northern Ireland backstop, which leaves the EU with the option of keeping the whole of the UK within a common Customs Union if a future trading relationship fails to be thrashed out during the 21-month transition period, set to run until December 2021.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, attacked Prime Minister May in his response to May's statement on Brexit to the House of Commons.

He said May's negotiations that resulted in Wednesday night's draft Brexit deal with the European Union had ended in a "huge and damaging failure."

Corbyn demanded that the government should withdraw the deal.

"The government simply cannot put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected," he said.

The markets also reacted sharply, with the British Pound falling heavily against most major currencies after Raab's resignation.

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the minority Tory government, have also been vocal in their criticism, threatening to break their deal with the Conservatives and vote down the deal.

The fresh turmoil comes as Britain continues to try and thrash out the basis of its exit from the EU, after a referendum over its membership of the economic bloc resulted in a 52 per cent vote in favour of Brexit in 2016.

As the chaos within government circles gathers momentum, calls for a second "people's vote" over the issue of Brexit is also gaining ground.

Aditi Khanna
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