Europe

May expected to announce departure date

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As the chaos from Brexit continues, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce the date of her departure shortly.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce the date of her departure, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.

After a crisis-riven premiership of almost three years, Ms May is due on Friday to meet the chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers.

Ms May will remain in office during a Conservative Party leadership election lasting about six weeks.

The contest is likely to start on 10 June after US President Donald Trump's state visit to Britain, The Times reported. 

Brexit vote delayed

The British government on Thursday postponed a crucial Brexit vote scheduled for the week starting 3 June, following an outcry from hardline Brexiteers over concessions made by Prime Minister Theresa May.

"We will update the house on the publication and introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess," government official Mark Spencer told MPs.

UK House of Commons leader quits

UK House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom announced her resignation from the government on Wednesday over Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of the Brexit crisis.

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The senior member of Ms May's Conservative Party said in a letter to the British leader that she was quitting because "I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the (2016) referendum result", which triggered Britain's efforts to leave the EU after four decades of membership.

I believe in what I'm doing
I believe in what I'm doing": The PM told her party.
AAP

It comes as Ms May stared down the prospect of her political career coming to an inglorious end after her final attempt to save her unpopular Brexit deal was almost universally condemned by parliament.

The beleaguered PM is in the last throes of a tumultuous rule focused all-but exclusively on guiding her fractured country out of the European Union in one piece.

But three overwhelming rejections by the parliament of the terms she struck with the other 27 nations last year have forced Britain to miss the original March 29 departure date and plead for more time.

Anxious members of Ms May's party met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss changes to the rules that would let them vote no-confidence in her leadership in the days to come.

Her woes were made worse when Ms Leadsom - one of the cabinet's strongest Brexit backers - resigned from her post as the government's representative in parliament over Ms May's handling of the slowly-unfolding crisis.

Ms May is now paying the price for failing to deliver on the wishes of voters who chose by a narrow margin in 2016 to break their uneasy four-decade involvement in the European integration project.

Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom leaves the Houses of Parliament after resigning.
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom leaves the Houses of Parliament after resigning.
PA Wire

Her Conservatives are set to get thumped in European Parliament elections Thursday in which the brand new Brexit Party of anti-EU populist Nigel Farage is running away with the polls.

Ms May has already promised to step down no matter the outcome of her fourth attempt to ram her version of Brexit through parliament in early June.

But even that sacrifice - and a package of sweeteners unveiled Wednesday that included a chance for lawmakers to get a second Brexit referendum - failed to win hearts and minds.

"It's time for the prime minister to go," Ian Blackford of the pro-EU Scottish National Party told Ms May as she tried to defend her latest proposals in parliament.

"Will she do it?"

Ms May ignored the question and called the upcoming vote Britain's last chance to leave the EU with a negotiated deal that can avert economic chaos.

Parliament should "stop ducking the issues and get on with the job that British people instructed us to do," she said.

Election drubbing

Things look set to get even worse for Ms May in the days and weeks to come.

The European elections are being interpreted in Britain as a referendum on both Brexit and Ms May's ability to get the job done. They make grim reading for the government team.

A YouGov survey Wednesday showed Farage's Brexit Party claiming 37-per cent support.

The pro-EU group of Liberal Democrats was second on 19 per cent. The main opposition Labour Party was on 13 per cent and Conservatives were lagging in fifth place with just seven per cent.

"If we win these elections and win them well, we have a democratic mandate," Farage said on Thursday.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told supporters that a vote for his party was "a vote to stop Brexit".

British Prime Minister Theresa May making a speech in London on her latest Brexit plans.
British Prime Minister Theresa May making a speech in London on her latest Brexit plans.
AAP

His group's open rejection of Brexit appears to be resonating with pro-EU voters who would normally back one of the two main parties.

'We can do better'

Earlier in the week, it looked like Ms May was still hoping to stay in power long enough to somehow win parliament's approval of the EU divorce terms before its summer recess begins on July 20.

This would let the country leave at the end of that month - as long as lawmakers reject a second referendum.

Otherwise, the process could be delayed until 31 October - the deadline set by the EU - or even later if its leaders grant Britain another postponement.

But pressure within both Ms May's government and party is building for her to go now so that a new leader can rescue the process before Britain crashes out without a deal.

Theresa May is fighting to keep her Brexit deal alive.
Theresa May is fighting to keep her Brexit deal alive.
AAP

UK media reports said that Wednesday's meeting of rank-and-file Conservatives discussed changes in rules focused on pushing Ms May out the door within days.

They reportedly agreed to resume their debate Friday.

The field of candidates to succeed Ms May is led by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson - a divisive figure who enjoys relatively strong public support.

Johnson said on Twitter he would not support Ms May's new package despite backing her "with great reluctance" the last time around.

"We can and must do better," Johnson tweeted.

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