Theresa May was ensconced in crisis talks to save her prime ministership Monday morning (Australian time) as one of her most senior cabinet ministers broke ranks to confirm a second Brexit referendum could be possible.
The dramatic political developments come after hundreds of thousands of Britons took to the streets of London over the weekend demanding a fresh vote on the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Amid speculation of an imminent leadership coup, Ms May gathered members of her Conservative Party cabinet –including prominent Brexit advocates Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg – at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.
Britain was originally due to leave the EU at the end of this week before Ms May secured a last-minute extension.
The delay until May 22 will apply only if Parliament agrees to Ms May’s unpopular Brexit deal, which has already been roundly rejected in two previous votes.
If the deal is opposed a third time, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the EU without a treaty.
The Sunday Times reported that a Conservative leadership coup was under way with a growing number of Cabinet members seeking to oust Ms May or force her to set a date for her departure.
The Times cited 11 unidentified senior ministers and said they had agreed that the Prime Minister should stand down, warning that she has become a toxic and erratic figure.
“The end is nigh. She will be gone in 10 days,” the newspaper quoted an unidentified minister as saying.
“Her judgment has started to go haywire. You can’t be a member of the cabinet who just puts your head in the sand,” the newspaper cited a second unidentified minister as saying.
The Times named that Ms May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington as one contender to be interim prime minister, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also possible replacements.
Mr Gove, however, later told reporters it was “not the time to change the captain of the ship”, while Mr Lidington insisted he was “100 per cent behind” Ms May.
Parliament is scheduled to hold a series of votes this week to determine what Brexit proposals, if any, could command majority support.
One of the options likely to be voted on this week is a second referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU.
In a stark departure from Ms May’s oft-repeated stance, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted a second referendum was a “coherent proposition” that deserves consideration.
His comments marked the first time a senior Cabinet minister has spoken about such a move as a viable possibility.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 23, 2019
Massive crowds flocked to an anti-Brexit protest march in London on Sunday, with organisers claimed more than one million people attended.
And an electronic petition designed to cancel Brexit altogether passed the 5 million signature mark later Sunday.
Mr Hammond confirmed Parliament would vote on a series of alternative Brexit options this week, and acknowledged that Ms May would be unlikely to salvage her own plan.
“I’m not sure that there’s a majority in Parliament for a second referendum but it’s a perfectly coherent proposition,” he told Sky News UK.
“Many people will be strongly opposed to it, but it’s a coherent proposition and it deserves to be considered along with the other proposals.”