Theresa May hunkers down as premiership enters its end stage

By JILL LAWLESS, LONDON, May 23 (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May was hunkered down with close allies on Thursday as she considered whether to give in to relentless pressure to resign, or fight on to save her Brexit plan and her premiership.

May’s fate looked sealed after the resignation late Wednesday of Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, who quit saying she could not support the EU withdrawal bill that May plans to introduce to Parliament.

Leadsom, as leader of the House of Commons, had been due to announce Thursday when a vote on the bill would be held.

In this image made available by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May dug in Wednesday against a growing push by both rivals and former allies to remove her from office as her attempts to lead Britain out of the European Union appeared to be headed for a dead end. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)

But Leadsom said she could not support May’s Brexit plan because it did not “deliver on the referendum result” that saw voters in 2016 opt to leave the EU.

“No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this government and our party,” Leadsom wrote in a resignation letter to May.

The number of Conservative lawmakers calling on May to resign is growing. The party’s legislators want May to agree Friday that she will quit, triggering a Conservative leadership contest. If not, they are likely to try to topple her.

“I want her to give a timetable for when she will go,” said Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the committee that oversees Conservative leadership races.

He said that if she did not set a departure date there would be “overwhelming pressure” for a no-confidence vote in her.

If May quits as party leader she will likely remain as caretaker prime minister for several weeks while Conservative lawmakers and members vote to elect a successor.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Thursday that May would still be in post when U.S. President Donald Trump comes to Britain for a June 3-5 state visit.

“Theresa May will be prime minister to welcome him, and rightly so,” Hunt said.

May became prime minister soon after the June 2016 EU membership referendum, and has spent her entire term in office trying to deliver on that decision.

She seemed close to success when she struck a divorce agreement with the EU late last year. But lawmakers have rejected it three times, and Britain’s long-scheduled departure date of March 29 passed with the country still in the bloc.

Many Conservatives blame May for the delay, and believe she is now an obstacle to Brexit. They want her replaced with a more ardent Brexiteer such as the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

May says another leader will not be able to strike a better deal with the EU. On Wednesday she urged lawmakers to support her Brexit bill, saying that if they reject it “all we have before us is division and deadlock.”

If May stays on until next week, pressure is likely to increase when results come in from this week’s elections for the European Parliament, with Conservatives expect to receive a drubbing. Many British voters on both sides of the Brexit debate look set to use the election to the EU legislature to express displeasure over the political gridlock. Opinion polls show strong support for the single-issue Brexit Party — largely from angry former Conservative voters — and for pro-EU parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The election is being held Thursday in Britain, but results won’t be announced until all 28 EU countries have finished voting late Sunday.

British newspapers on Thursday were unanimous in declaring that the end is nigh for May.

The Conservative-backing Daily Telegraph said in an editorial that “either Mrs. May must go as soon as humanly possible, or the Conservative Party must finally remove her.”

The Daily Mail, which has been supportive of May, said that “despite her valiant efforts to deliver an honorable Brexit, she has finally run out of road.”

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