British Prime Minister Theresa May has backed down from plans to seek parliamentary support for a Brexit bill already rejected by much of her Conservative Party.
However she has not yet caved in to demands to resign and let a new leader try to complete the UK’s stalled exit from the EU.
With her authority draining away by the hour, May on Thursday delayed plans to publish the EU withdrawal bill – her fourth and likely final attempt to secure parliament’s backing for her Brexit blueprint.
Conservative MPs increasingly see May as an obstacle to Britain’s EU exit, although her replacement will face the same dilemma: a parliament deeply divided over whether to leave the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with the bloc after it does.
Conservative legislators scheduled a Friday meeting, where they want May to announce her departure date.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the committee that oversees Conservative leadership races, said if May did not agree to leave, there would be “overwhelming pressure” for a no-confidence vote in her.
If May does name an exit date, she will likely remain prime minister for several more weeks while Conservative MPs and members vote to choose a successor.
May’s spokesman said she would still be in office when US President Donald Trump comes to Britain for a June 3-5 visit.
“She looks forward to welcoming the president,” the spokesman said.
But few doubt this is the endgame for May’s term, which has been consumed by Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
Senior Conservatives, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and several members of her cabinet, are already jockeying for position in the coming leadership race.
House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom – another likely contender – helped seal May’s fate when she resigned late on Wednesday, saying she could not support May’s withdrawal bill.
The draft contains measures aimed at winning support from the opposition, including a promise to let parliament vote on whether to hold a new EU membership referendum.
That concession, which could ultimately lead to Brexit being halted, was the final straw for many Conservative MPs, who also baulked at May’s offer of a close customs relationship with the EU, which would limit Britain’s trade autonomy.
May moved quickly on Thursday to replace Leadsom with former treasury minister Mel Stride.
But she also delayed the bill, which May previously said would be published on Friday and put to a vote during the week of June 3.
On Thursday, the government only promised an “update” on the bill during that week.
May on Thursday met with two of her most senior ministers, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who underscored cabinet concerns about her bill.
May’s spokesman said the prime minister was “listening to colleagues’ views” and still hoped to secure backing for her Brexit deal.
But he said delivering Brexit had “proved more challenging even than she had imagined”.