(Bloomberg) -- Euroskeptic Tories have failed to stop U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for a soft Brexit and are considering a radical last ditch move that could bring down her minority government later this year.
May is pushing ahead with her blueprint for keeping the U.K. in a close trading partnership with the European Union for goods, despite the resignations of two cabinet ministers in protest.
According to senior Tories, speaking on condition of anonymity, euroskeptics who want a more decisive split from the bloc have only one choice left: to vote down the final withdrawal agreement when it comes to Parliament for approval.
If the rebels succeed in blocking May’s EU exit treaty in Parliament, it is uncertain what would follow in the chaotic aftermath. The U.K. would be on course to crash out of the 28-nation bloc without an overall agreement, an outcome that could force May from power, or trigger an election.
May’s administration is in disarray as her party’s internal battle over how to deliver Brexit escalates. With time for negotiating a withdrawal treaty running out, talks between the EU and U.K. in Brussels have stalled because May’s team has been unable to decide what kind of Brexit they want.
On Friday, she finally forced her feuding cabinet ministers to choose between backing her most detailed proposals for the future trade relationship with the EU, or quitting.
But, after initially agreeing to support May’s proposals, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned in a dramatic 24 hours over Sunday night and into Monday. Other senior government figures, including Davis’s deputy Steve Baker, also quit because they disagree with May.
In an attempt to win cross-party backing, May’s team have begun briefing the main opposition Labour Party, apparently in the hope of being able to persuade them to support her plans. This has further fueled the Tory infighting.
“It’s possible that the prime minister might have difficulty in the autumn with a deal and might need Labour support,” pro-EU Tory Dominic Grieve said in an interview. “We are facing a very big challenge, indeed a potential very big political crisis.”
Grieve’s colleague Richard Drax, who wants a clean break with the EU, warned that “any government” that seeks opposition support to quell an internal revolt “falls.” He added: “If Mrs. May is trying to warm up the Labour Party to get this through this autumn, I would personally be very disappointed -- and that’s putting it mildly.” She could end up with 100 Tories against her and that “would tear the government apart.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to keep the U.K. even more closely tied to the EU than May proposes, and his colleagues think he would rather trigger a new election than back any Brexit deal that she secures. That would still leave May’s plans without enough backing to pass a vote in Parliament.
“Corbyn’s allies believe the prospect of a general election has been brought nearer by the resignations of Johnson and Davis, which will also likely embolden more Tory Brexiteers to vote against May’s deal,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Eurasia Group managing director.
But Tories say legally they would have to vote for an election earlier than the scheduled date of 2022, and they won’t do that, Rahman said. “Therefore, while an early general election is more likely than it was,” on balance, “it remains unlikely for now.”
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