By Lucia Suarez Sang
Published March 27, 2019
Theresa May announced Wednesday she will step down as Britain's prime minister if her twice-defeated Brexit deal is finally passed in parliament, marking a last-ditch effort to persuade Conservative lawmakers to back her.
May told the influential backbench 1922 committee in a closed-door meeting that she is "prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to secure a smooth and orderly Brexit."
"I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party," she said, according to Reuters. "I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that."
Conservative lawmaker James Cartlidge told reporters Wednesday as he left the closed-door meeting that May said “she would not remain in post for the next phase of the negotiations."
May's office also confirmed the news.
“I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty - to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit," May said in the meeting, according to extracts released by her office.
In recent days, the prime minister has faced increased calls for her to step down so that another leader can take over the next stage of Brexit negations. By leaving sooner, she increases the chances of her European Union divorce deal passing before the new April 12 deadline.
May’s announcement is the latest dramatic turn in Britain’s three-year Brexit crisis, which still remains uncertain how, when or even if it will leave the European Union. The government is now expected to bring the deal back to parliament for a third vote on Friday.
“It was inevitable and I just feel she’s made the right decision. She has actually read the mood of the party, which was a surprise,” said Conservative lawmaker Pauline Latham, according to Reuters.
Also Wednesday, British lawmakers debated and are set to vote on a series of alternatives for the Brexit deal as they sought to bring some clarity to the process. It’s unclear when the vote will happen.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow selected eight widely differing options for votes from a list of 16 submitted by lawmakers. They include calls to leave the EU without a deal, to stay in the EU's customs union and single market, to put any EU divorce deal to a public referendum, and to cancel Brexit if the prospect of a no-deal departure gets close.
Almost three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, the date and terms of its departure are up in the air. Last week, the EU granted Britain a delay to the scheduled March 29 exit date, saying that if Parliament approves the proposed divorce deal this week, the U.K. will leave the EU on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell the 27 remaining EU countries what it plans to do — leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or propose a radically new path.
Many EU officials are keen to avoid the messy participation of a departing member state.
But the chief of the European Council told European lawmakers that the EU should let Britain take part if the country indicated it planned to change course on Brexit.
Donald Tusk said the bloc could not "betray" the millions of Britons who want to stay in the EU.
"They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the U.K. Parliament but they must feel that are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans," Tusk said.