LONDON—Theresa May’s government—which has lurched from one crisis to another ever since she took over as Britain’s prime minister in 2016—is under siege from her own cabinet, with two high-profile ministers quitting in the space of one hour Thursday morning, the day after she presented the deal she’d struck with the EU for the U.K.’s exit to near-universal criticism.
The two ministers, which included the cabinet secretary in charge of Brexit, have quit in protest after May revealed the culmination of months of negotiations Wednesday—only to have her efforts panned by both sides of the EU debate. May is a single-issue prime minister, and the harsh verdict on her deal seriously imperils her leadership.
One U.K. government minister told The Daily Beast that the government was “fucked, in every hole” and admitted this could be the endgame for May, saying there were three possible routes: May resigns as prime minister, she fights a leadership challenge in her party, or she calls an election.
May is now facing open rebellion—several pro-Brexit lawmakers publicly called on her to stand down as prime minister Thursday morning. Former Chancellor George Osborne, once a colleague of May’s and now editor of the London Evening Standard, also weighed in:
The draft agreement said the U.K. will pay at least £39 billion to the EU to cover its financial obligations, introduce a 21-month “transition period” after Brexit, which would keep the U.K. aligned with EU rules, and keep Northern Ireland in a deeper relationship with the EU than the rest of Britain to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The proposals have come under fire from pro-Brexit lawmakers, who say they would make the U.K. a “vassal state” of the EU, and pro-EU lawmakers who say the arrangements would diminish the U.K.’s influence.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who supports Brexit, said he was forced to quit for two reasons. First, that the special arrangement for Northern Ireland would present “a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom,” and second that the plan would give the EU too much control over the U.K. after its exit from the bloc.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey also quit, saying May’s deal “does not honor the result of the referendum,” and warning, “It will bind the hands of not only this, but future governments in pursuing genuine free-trade policies. We wouldn’t be taking back control. We would be handing over control to the EU and even to a third country for arbitration.”
Two minor ministers also quit their posts Thursday morning, bringing the total to four, and suggesting the resignations were coordinated in an attempt to cause the most damage to the prime minister.
More resignations are expected throughout the day.
The leader of the pro-Brexit group of parliamentarians, Jacob Rees-Mogg, submitted a letter to party chiefs calling for a leadership election, then held an extraordinary press conference on the steps of the Palace of Westminster explaining why the prime minister had to resign—but insisted he wasn't carrying out a coup.
Another one of May's parliamentarians, Steve Baker, issued a letter calling for a leadership election, saying, “There seems little point allowing the captain to continue running the ship towards the rocks.”
However, May has vowed to fight on.
She delivered statement to the British Parliament early Thursday, warning that scrapping the deal would take the U.K. “back to square one,” opening up the possibility of leaving the EU with no arrangements in place or having “no Brexit at all”—a suggestion that received a roar of approval from pro-EU lawmakers in the House of Commons.
In a later press conference—which caused a frenzy of speculation when it was announced that she may resign—May doubled down on her Brexit agreement saying she believed in it with “every fiber of my being” and adding, “Am I going to see this through? Yes.”
Following her morning statement in Parliament, lawmaker after lawmaker lined up to criticize her deal—each critique more devastating than the last, with particularly strong rebukes coming from pro-Brexit members of her own Conservative party.
Britain’s opposition leader, the Labour party’s Jeremy Corbyn, said the government was in “chaos” and warned that even if May survives and manages to present the deal to Parliament, his party would not support it. So, even if May clings on to power, the deal is likely to be rejected by lawmakers.
Ian Blackford, the leader of the third largest party in Parliament—the Scottish National Party—said the deal was “dead in the water.”
If May’s intention in publishing the draft agreement was to make the U.K.’s eventual destination clearer, it’s had the opposite effect. Brexit plans are in disarray, and her leadership is on the brink of failure.