UK PM May defends Brexit deal as opponents plot no-confidence vote
* Brexit-backing ministers voice support
* May says still working with Northern Irish DUP
* Sterling up half a cent vs dollar
(Adds new Brexit secretary)
By Costas Pitas and Alistair Smout
LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa
May won the backing of the most prominent Brexiteer in her
government on Friday as she fought to save a draft European
Union divorce deal that has stirred up a plot to force her out
of her job.
More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave
the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if the
world's fifth largest economy will leave the bloc as planned on
March 29, 2019.
Just hours after announcing that her senior ministers had
collectively backed her divorce deal, May's premiership was
thrust into its most perilous crisis to date when her Brexit
Secretary Dominic Raab resigned on Thursday in opposition to the
Other mutinous lawmakers in her party have openly spoken of
ousting her and said bluntly that the Brexit deal would not pass
But May, who has defiantly vowed to stay on as prime
minister, got a rare boost on Friday when Michael Gove, the most
prominent Brexit-supporting minister, gave his backing to her,
saying he would stay on as environment minister.
Asked if he had confidence in May, Gove, who is famous for
sinking former foreign minister Boris Johnson's leadership bid
in 2016, told reporters: "I absolutely do."
"I think it's absolutely vital that we focus on getting the
right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that
matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome,"
said Gove, 51, a potential successor to May.
Trade minister Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter,
also joined Gove in backing May - but her future remains
The first question she faced on a LBC radio phone-in show to
defend her deal was from a caller who asked her to "respectfully
stand down". She did not immediately address that part of the
Stephen Barclay, a little-known junior health minister, was
appointed as the new Brexit secretary, although the status of
the role was downgraded from chief negotiator with May leading
the completion of talks with the EU.
"He will be doing the domestic role. The PM will be
completing the last 10 days of negotiations," May's spokesman
Sterling, which has see-sawed on Brexit news since
the referendum, was up half a cent against the dollar at $1.2834
Politicians, officials and diplomats in London openly
questioned how long May had left as speculation swirled that a
leadership challenge could come soon.
Under Conservative Party rules, a vote must take place when
48 of her lawmakers submit letters to the party's so-called 1922
committee, chaired by a senior lawmaker, Graham Brady.
Influential Brexit-supporting lawmaker Steve Baker said
rebels in May's party were close to the threshold which would
trigger a confidence vote. So far, at least 21 lawmakers have
publicly said they have submitted letters.
"I think we're probably not far off," said Baker, a key
figure in the Brexit-backing wing of May's party. "I think it
probably is imminent, yes," he told BBC TV.
British political correspondents also reported that Gove,
Fox and other pro-Brexit ministers would meet this weekend to
amend May's deal. However, both the Irish and Dutch prime
ministers said there was little scope to change the proposals.
Since winning the top job in the turmoil that followed the
2016 referendum, May's tumultuous premiership has been
characterised by an obdurate flair for survival despite frequent
May's de facto deputy, David Lidington, said she would win a
vote of no confidence, in which she would need a simple majority
of the total votes cast by her lawmakers.
"If those letters were to go in, I think that she would win
any such vote decisively, and she'd deserve to do so," Lidington
said in a broadcast clip.
If May stayed on in power without a divorce deal that could
be approved, the ultimate outcome of Brexit would be uncertain.
Other possible scenarios for the United Kingdom include
May's deal ultimately winning approval; May losing her job;
Britain leaving the bloc with no agreement; or even another
A snap poll by Survation of 1,070 voters for the Daily Mail
newspaper found 49 percent of respondents opposed the deal and
just 27 percent backed it.
To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need to
get the backing of about 320 of parliament's 650 lawmakers. The
deal is due to be discussed at an EU summit on Nov. 25.
By seeking to preserve the closest possible ties with the
EU, May has upset her party's many advocates of a clean break,
and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which
props up her minority government.
"They've raised some questions with us, they've raised some
concerns with us and yes we are looking at those," May said.
"We are still working with the DUP."
NIGHTMARE FOR BUSINESS?
The EU and Britain need an agreement to keep trade flowing
between the world's biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom,
home to the biggest international financial centre.
Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring
some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow
the United Kingdom to thrive.
May told LBC radio the threat of a no deal Brexit was
personal as she is Type 1 diabetic: "I depend on insulin every
day. My insulin is produced by a country elsewhere in the
May's spokeswoman said there had been strong business
support for her draft deal but British aero-engine maker
Rolls-Royce was continuing with its no-deal contingency
The plans include "buffer stocks so that we have all the
logistical capacity that we need to carry on running our
business," said Chief Executive Warren East.
Proponents of closer relations with the EU in her own party
and the Labour opposition say the deal squanders the advantages
of membership for little gain.
(Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Andy Bruce,
Elizabeth Piper and William James; writing by Michael Holden and
Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William
Maclean and Andrew Heavens)
First Published: 2018-11-16 11:36:02
Updated 2018-11-16 18:58:16
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