May Could Be Forced to Fire Ministers Over Brexit Rebellion

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May is facing a new threat to her authority as some of her own ministers consider voting against her Brexit strategy and then challenging her to fire them, people familiar with the matter said.

As many as 15 ministers who oppose the U.K.’s drift towards a no-deal Brexit could force the premier to choose between accepting their open revolt, or dismissing them all from the government.

The senior officials want to back a cross-party effort to stop the U.K. leaving the European Union on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the blow, according to three people who asked not to be named.

Ministers are usually expected to toe the party line or quit if they want to vote against the government. However, some are considering doing so on Feb. 27 while staying in their posts, the people said. It would then be for May to decide whether to remove them from their ministerial roles in punishment.

The ministers want to support a move coordinated by the Labour Party’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Oliver Letwin to force a delay to Brexit if there isn’t an agreement. They are expected to put forward an amendment to May’s motion in an attempt to extend Britain’s EU membership beyond the end of March.

Under the plan, May would be forced to choose between pursuing no deal or extending Article 50. Crucially, she’d have to put either decision to a vote in Parliament, and the House of Commons has already made clear it rejects the no-deal option.

Business Fears

“I think it is more likely people will vote for the Cooper-Letwin amendment and challenge the prime minister to sack them than resign,” Philip Lee, a Tory MP who resigned as a minister last year to vote against May’s deal, said in an interview.

As the clock runs down to the March 29 exit day, May says the only way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is for the House of Commons to support her deal, and has repeatedly refused to rule out no deal despite the uncertainty it is creating for businesses and people.

But after a succession of defeats for May over her Brexit plan in recent months, ministers are becoming increasingly worried the U.K. could crash out of the EU unless the option is taken off the table. No deal remains the default option if the a deal can’t be agreed.

On Tuesday, Business Secretary Greg Clark warned that a no-deal Brexit would be a “disaster” and a “hammer blow” to U.K. industry after Honda Motor Co. confirmed plans to close its Swindon car plant.

Another Business Minister, Richard Harrington, has openly said he’d vote against no deal and on Wednesday warned May risks losing control of the Brexit process if she can’t get her deal through Parliament.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.