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WORLD | 15-11-2018 14:27

British Prime Minister Theresa May fights party rebellion over Brexit deal

May's draft Brexit deal in danger as ministers resign their posts and members of her own party plot to oust her from power.

British Prime Minister Theresa May battled against a rebellion over her draft Brexit deal on Thursday, as ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her.

The Conservative leader, who was to hold a press conference this afternoon, tried to defend the proposed agreement before a hostile Parliament after four ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, quit the government.

May insisted it was the best deal Britain could hope to strike when it leaves the European Union on March 29, warning that the only alternatives were leaving with no deal or not leaving at all.

But members of Parliament on all sides told her there was no way it could win their approval, with arch-Brexiteers and EU loyalists alike insisting it was already sunk.

Brexit hardliners see the deal as conceding too much to Brussels, while EU supporters are calling for a second referendum, or "people's vote" on a final deal.

The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.

Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, protect citizens' rights and settle Britain's last bill.

Amid the political turmoil, the pound dropped by more than 1.5 percent against the dollar to a one-month low and a similar amount against the euro.

'Stand aside'

As May spoke, the European Research Group of Brexit hardliners met in a parliamentary committee room to plot her removal.

ERG chief Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister saying: "It would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside."

At least 48 letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader, but a majority of the party's 315 lawmakers would have to vote against May in order for her to be ousted.

Although other MPs have already sent letters, all eyes were on Rees-Mogg given his influence over Brexit supporting MPs. The MP told reporters that a challenge could be launched within weeks.

"I think it can be done quite quickly," he said. "The parliamentary processes can be sped up," suggesting a time frame of "not months, but I think weeks."

May went into battle after Raab resigned over the draft deal, while a second cabinet minister and two junior government ministers also walked out.

She faced a barrage of exceptionally hostile questions from MPs – not only from the opposition but from her own Conservative backbenchers.

"If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead," May told lawmakers.

"We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated."

'I must resign'

EU leaders will hold an extraordinary Brexit summit on November 25. If they approve the agreement, the British Parliament is scheduled to vote on it in early December.

Raab said there would be a devastating impact on public trust in the government unless it changed course on Brexit.

"I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto," he said in his resignation letter. "I must resign."

Environment minister Michael Gove was the surprise favourite to replace Raab, according to the Daily Telegraph, but was reported to be demanding the chance to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Brexit hardliner Esther McVey also quit her work and pensions secretary post. Suella Braverman resigned as a junior Brexit minister and Shailesh Vara quit as a junior Northern Ireland minister.

In Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, told May: "The government must now withdraw this half-baked deal. This is not the deal the country was promised."

No-deal 'still on the table'

May had secured her Cabinet's "collective" approval for the agreement during a five-hour meeting on Wednesday and European leaders hailed the tentative deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "very happy" that the EU and Britain had reached a draft agreement but French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the prospect of Britain crashing out without a deal was "still on the table."

In Brussels, EU President Donald Tusk said member states would have until Tuesday to examine the deal and to agree the wording of a parallel political statement setting out goals for the bloc's future relations with London.

- AFP

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