Another Week, Another Brexit Showdown for Theresa May

Another Week, Another Brexit Showdown for Theresa MayAnother Week, Another Brexit Showdown for Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s long-running battle with her divided Conservative Party took a potentially more dangerous turn, as one of her former ministers began assembling lawmakers to vote against her Brexit plans.

Euroskeptic Tories are angry that the prime minister wants to keep the UK closely tied to the European Union’s single market after leaving the bloc. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis both resigned in protest last week. Now Steve Baker, another Brexit minister who quit, is coordinating lawmakers on WhatsApp ahead of key parliamentary votes, according to a person familiar with the strategy, Bloomberg reported.

Their first opportunity is the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which was to return to the House of Commons on Monday, the person said. Leading pro-Brexit Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has offered amendments to the legislation which have little chance of passing, but are intended as a show of the Euroskeptic group’s strength.

On Monday, it appeared May might be trying to put off the moment she finds out just how angry her party is. An official in her office said the government was considering accepting the amendments, meaning all Tories would likely support them.

“The Government unfortunately believes that Brexit is not a good thing in itself,” Rees-Mogg told the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” program, declining to comment on how many lawmakers he expected to vote for the amendments. “It seems to think it has to be tempered with non-Brexit.”

 Leadership Challenge

May’s most immediate threat is being faced with an absolute number of hard Brexiters who oppose her—48, for example, would be enough to trigger a leadership challenge—rather than defeat on the trade bill itself. On paper, only seven Conservatives need to rebel for that to happen, but Rees-Mogg said both the taxation bill and a trade bill due for a vote on Tuesday are “sensible overall”, and that he does not expect the votes to go against the government.

Still, he warned that in the long term, parliamentary arithmetic would force May to either change her Brexit policy or try to rely on opposition Labor Party votes—a strategy he said would “split” the Conservative Party.

The Telegraph newspaper reported that more than 100 lawmakers were in the WhatsApp group, which if true would amount to a considerable threat to May’s leadership.

Meanwhile Johnson’s first intervention since he quit was low-key, an article in the Telegraph urging the country to “believe in ourselves, to believe in the British people and what they can do, and in our democracy.” It did not suggest he was about to challenge May’s authority.

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