UK Prime Minister Theresa May is facing threats to both her Brexit plan and her leadership, with two major resignations over the plan and calls for a no-confidence vote from members of her party in Parliament. Dominic Raab, May’s chief Brexit negotiator, resigned Thursday morning, according to the LA Times.
Raab’s role in May’s Cabinet was seen as a assurance that the priorities of Conservative Brexiteers would be considered in May’s plan. But shortly after the proposal went public, he resigned, saying he did not support the current approach to leaving the EU, nor could he “reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country.”
Before long, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey also announced her resignation.
“We have gone from no deal is better than a bad deal, to any deal is better than no deal,” McVey said in her resignation letter.
Shortly after, the British pound declined sharply, from $1.30 down to $1.2753.
May remained confident, saying:
“Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones. My job is to bring back a deal that delivers for the British people.”
She vigorously defended her Brexit deal over hours of questioning by the House of Commons.
As in recent weeks, the main point of contention for both sides of the Brexit debate continues to be over the best approach to leaving the EU while preserving free trade and movement between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and Ireland (which remains part of the EU).
For one, aspects of the plan conflict with parts of the Good Friday Agreement, which helped secure peace in Northern Ireland in the 90s. Also, there are concerns that efforts to ensure a smoother flow of goods and movement over that border could actually create new barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The current draft agreement includes a “backstop” plan, which would have the UK remain a member of the EU customs union in the absence of an acceptable trade deal. If that plan went into effect, the UK could not choose to unilaterally exit that arrangement, leading to objections from Brexit advocates. Also, lawmakers from Northern Ireland have taken issue with the more obstructive customs relationship they would face with the EU.
Brexit advocate Jacob Rees-Mogg is calling for a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership of the Conservative party, and as many as dozen other lawmakers from the party followed suit. A total of 48 requests would lead to such a vote, and if a majority of Conservatives vote against her, she would be forced to resign.
The withdrawal from the EU is scheduled to occur by late March, but first, Parliament must approve the terms of the final agreement.