New Brexit secretary to focus on UK's readiness for exit

The Prime Minister has vowed to push a draft Brexit plan through the British Parliament, but her opponents say they're nearly ready to launch a no-confidence motion in her.

They are aiming for the magic number of 48 - the 15 percent of Conservative lawmakers needed to trigger a challenge to her leadership under party rules. "If we accept that, it will severely prejudice the second phase of negotiations against the United Kingdom", the British negotiator said while telling the Prime Minister that she deserves a British Secretary "who can make the case for the deal you are pursuing with conviction".

"I think it's absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome", he said.

Four UK ministers holding key posts such as UK's Brexit negotiator Raab handed in their letters of resignation on Thursday citing differences with the draft deal.

May promoted Steve Barclay from minister of state in the Department of Health to take charge as the new Brexit secretary after his predecessor, Dominic Raab, stepped down in protest over "fatal flaws" in the divorce deal the premier had struck with the European Union (EU).

The prospect of May's ouster or the deal's failure in the British Parliament has raised concerns that Britain could try to renegotiate the agreement before its scheduled exit on March 29, 2019. Two Cabinet ministers resigned and some lawmakers from May's own party called for her to be replaced.

The five ministers include Michael Gove and Liam Fox - who on Friday publicly threw their support behind the PM - plus Penny Mordaunt and Chris Grayling.

But Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "After two years of negotiation, the prime minister has failed to deliver a Brexit deal that can command the support of Parliament".

To leave the European Union on the terms of her deal, May would need to get the backing of about 320 of parliament's 650 MPs.

The first question she faced on a LBC radio phone-in show to defend her deal was from a caller who asked her to "respectfully stand down".

Conservative whips were ordered back to London to assess the scale of the rebellion facing Mrs May over her Brexit agreement with Brussels.

MEPs divide their time between their constituencies, Strasbourg - where 12 plenary sittings a year are held - and Brussels, where they attend additional plenary sittings, as well as committee and political group meetings.

"We are being bullied (by the EU), I do think we are being subjected to what is pretty close to blackmail", he told BBC television. However, both the Irish and Dutch prime ministers said there was little scope to change the proposals.

Tory whips met at Westminster yesterday to discuss building support for Mrs May ahead of a crunch no-confidence vote - expected to be triggered on Monday - which would oust her from Downing Street.

However, if May is unable to get a deal through then a no-deal Brexit becomes the default position.

May and her supporters say the alternatives to her deal-leaving the bloc without a deal or a second vote on Brexit-are not realistic options.

  • Jon Douglas