Brexit rebels deny plot to oust Prime Minister Theresa May

Opponents to Prime Minister May's plans for exiting the EU appeared to back down after reports 50 lawmakers discussed how to oust her. More proposals for the Irish border saw the light of day.

Hardline Brexiteers lined up on Wednesday to pledge their support for the British prime minister after reports of a dinner the night before when about 50 of them openly discussed a change of leadership.

Backtracking at various speeds after the weekly prime minister's questions in parliament, the Brexiteers also appeared to distance themselves from former foreign secretary Boris Johnson's comparison of May's Brexit plan to a "suicide vest" on Britain's constitution.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said "I disagree with her on one issue." He added: "She should stay in place because we need stability and we need decent government."

Environment Secretary and Brexiteer Michael Gove claimed in a radio interview on Wednesday not to have attended the dinner and urged Conservatives to get behind May, who he said was "doing a brilliant job" negotiating Brexit. When asked if there should be a leadership challenge, he replied "no."

May's spokesman said she would fight any attempt to oust her and would pursue what he described as the only credible plan for Brexit, the one agreed at the Chequers country house in July. This outline of a proposal to Brussels sparked the resignations of her Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Under party rules, a leadership election would be held if 48 of the 315 Conservative members of parliament wrote demanding a vote of no confidence in parliament. If May survived such a vote, another one could not be held for a year.

Britain's embattled skipper: Theresa May
May became prime minister after David Cameron resigned from the post in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016. Despite her position, she has struggled to define what kind of Brexit her government wants. Hardliners within her Conservative party want her to push for a clean break. Others want Britain to stay close to the bloc. The EU itself has rejected many of May's Brexit demands.
Britain's reluctant rebel: Jeremy Corbyn
The leader of the British Labour Party has no formal role in the Brexit talks, but he is influential as the head of the main opposition party. Labour has tried to pressure the Conservative government, which has a thin majority in Parliament, to seek a "softer" Brexit. But Corbyn's own advocacy has been lukewarm. The long-time leftist voted for the UK to leave the European Community (EC) in 1975.
Britain's boisterous Brexiteer: Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson's turbulent two years as UK foreign secretary came to an abrupt end with his resignation on July 9. The conservative had been a key face for the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum campaign. Johnson disapproves of the "soft Brexit" sought by PM May, arguing that a complete break from the EU might be preferable. He became the second Cabinet member within 24 hours to quit...
Britain's cheery ex-delegate: David Davis
David Davis headed Britain's Department for Exiting the EU and was the country's chief negotiator in the talks before he quit on July 8, less than 24 hours before Downing Street announced Boris Johnson's departure. Davis had long opposed Britain's EU membership and was picked for the role for this reason. Davis was involved in several negotiating rounds with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.
Britain's legal envoy: Dominic Raab
Theresa May appointed euroskeptic Dominic Raab the morning after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned. Raab, a staunchly pro-Brexit lawmaker, was formerly Davis' chief of staff. He previously worked for a Palestinian negotiator in the Oslo peace process and as an international lawyer in Brussels advising on European Union and World Trade Organization law.
Britain's turnabout diplomat: Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt was Britain's Health Secretary until he replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary in early July 2018. The 51-year-old supported Britain remaining in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but said in late 2017 that he had changed his mind in response to the "the arrogance of the EU Commission" during Brexit talks. He has vowed to help get Britain a "great Brexit deal."
Britain's firebrand: Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage was the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) until July 2016. Under his stewardship, the party helped pressure former Prime Minister David Cameron into calling the EU referendum. He was also a prominent activist in the Leave campaign in the lead-up to the vote. Farage still has some influence over Brexit talks due to his popularity with pro-Leave voters.
Europe's honchos: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk
EU Commission President Juncker (left) and EU Council President Tusk (right) share two of the bloc's highest posts. Juncker heads the EU's executive. Tusk represents the governments of the 27 EU countries — the "EU 27." Both help formulate the EU's position in Brexit negotiations. What Tusk says is particularly noteworthy: His EU 27 masters — not the EU commission — must agree to any Brexit deal.
Europe's steely diplomat: Michel Barnier
The former French foreign minister and European commissioner has become a household name across the EU since his appointment as the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator in October 2016. Despite his prominence, Barnier has limited room to maneuver. He is tasked with following the EU 27's strict guidelines and must regularly report back to them during the negotiations.
Ireland's uneasy watchman: Leo Varadkar
The Irish PM has been one of the most important EU 27 leaders in Brexit talks. Britain has said it will leave the EU's customs union and single market. That could force the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, to put up customs checks along the border with Northern Ireland, a British province. But Varadkar's government has repeatedly said the return of a "hard" border is unacceptable.
Europe's power-brokers: the EU 27
The leaders of the EU 27 governments have primarily set the EU's negotiating position. They have agreed to the negotiating guidelines for chief negotiator Barnier and have helped craft the common EU position for Tusk and Juncker to stick to. The individual EU 27 governments can also influence the shape of any Brexit outcome because they must unanimously agree to a final deal.

Irish border question

A major sticking point in the negotiations is how to agree for a British withdrawal from Europe without reinstalling a hard border between the UK province of Northern Ireland with the Republic to the south.

On Wednesday, the main Brexit group in parliament, known as the European Research Group (ERG), announced its proposal for dealing with the issue. Customs declarations could be made ahead of travel, and goods could be inspected before they were shipped, the ERG suggested.

Read more: Is the Brexit hard-liner European Research Group running the UK?

Similar proposals have been rejected by the UK government in the past. "We have been working on the issue of the Northern Irish border for two years," May's spokesman said on Wednesday. "We have looked at a significant number of potential solutions and we believe that the plan put forward by Chequers is the only credible and negotiable one."

The Irish border

The deputy leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up the minority Conservative government in Westminster claimed that infrastructure would not be needed on the Northern Irish border — with or without a deal with the EU.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds told reporters on Wednesday that he believed another solution would be found for the border: "Any plan that will eventually be discussed in parliament at the outcome of the negotiations will probably in all certainty be not the plans that have currently been put forward."

May and Chancellor Angela Merkel at the EU summit in Brussels in June

Next round in Salzburg

The next stage in negotiations is expected to come after an informal meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg next week when May will present her case. On Wednesday she told MPs that if there was no deal, the payment of the €40-billion-plus 'divorce' bill could be withheld: "Without a deal, the position changes," May said.

There have been press reports of a special EU summit in November when leaders could formally agree to the terms of the British exit.

The UK is due to leave the EU, with or without a deal, on March 29 next year.

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jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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Date 12.09.2018