May has eye on rebellion as EU prepares for Brexit push
The UK and the European Union plowed ahead Monday with plans to have their divorce deal signed, sealed and delivered within days as British Prime Minister Theresa May waited to see whether rebel lawmakers opposed to the agreement had the numbers to challenge her leadership.
The draft agreement reached last week triggered an avalanche of criticism in Britain and left May fighting to keep her job even as British and EU negotiators raced to firm up a final deal before a weekend summit where EU leaders hope to rubber-stamp it.
The 585-page, legally binding withdrawal agreement is as good as complete, but Britain and the EU still need to flesh out a far less detailed seven-page declaration on their future relations.
May said "an intense week of negotiations" lay ahead to finalise the framework.
The deal has infuriated pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party. The Brexiteers want a clean break with the bloc and argue that the close trade ties called for in the agreement May's government agreed would leave Britain a vassal state, bound to EU rules it has no say in making.
Two Cabinet ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, resigned in protest, and rebels are trying to gather the signatures of 48 lawmakers needed to trigger a no-confidence vote.
One rebel lawmaker, Simon Clarke, on Monday urged wavering colleagues to help trigger a leadership challenge to May.
"It is quite clear to me that the captain is driving the ship at the rocks," Clarke said.
Even if May sees off such a challenge, she still has to get the deal approved by Parliament. Her Conservatives don't have a parliamentary majority, and it's not clear whether she can persuade enough lawmakers to back the agreement.
Some Conservative Brexiteers, including Raab, say the prime minister should stay in her post but try to renegotiate the Brexit deal - something May and other EU leaders insist is impossible.
May argues that abandoning the plan, with Britain's withdrawal just over four months away on March 29, could lead to a disorderly and economically damaging "no deal" Brexit - or to a situation in which Britain's exit from the EU is postponed indefinitely.