British Prime Minister Theresa May offered up her job in exchange for her Brexit deal Wednesday, telling colleagues she would quit within weeks if the agreement was passed and Britain left the European Union.
May’s dramatic concession that “there is a desire for a new approach — and new leadership” was a last-ditch effort to bring enough reluctant colleagues on board to push her twice-rejected EU divorce deal over the line.
It looked as though it might not be enough, as a key Northern Ireland party said it would not support the deal.
May’s announcement came as lawmakers held an inconclusive series of votes on alternatives to her unpopular deal. It was the first step in an attempt by Parliament to break the Brexit deadlock and stop the country from tumbling out of the bloc within weeks with no exit plan in place.
May has been under mounting pressure from pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party to quit. Many Brexiteers accuse her of negotiating a bad divorce deal that leaves Britain too closely tied to the bloc after it leaves.
Several have said they would support the withdrawal deal if another leader took charge of the next stage of negotiations, which will determine Britain’s future relations with the EU.
In a packed meeting of Conservative legislators described by participants as “somber,” May finally conceded she would have to go, although she did not set a departure date.
“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party,” she said, according to a transcript released by her office.
It was unclear whether May’s offer to resign would be enough to win backing for her deal, which was defeated by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes this month.
Two years ago, Britain triggered a countdown to departure from the EU this Friday. With that date approaching and no Brexit deal approved by Britain, the EU last week granted a delay. It said that if Parliament approves the 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.
With May clinging to her Plan A — getting her deal approved — lawmakers this week seized control of the parliamentary timetable for debate and voted Wednesday on a range of Brexit alternatives.
The results underscored the divisions in Parliament, and the country, over Brexit. None of the eight plans received a majority of votes. The most popular were a proposal to remain in a customs union with the bloc, which was defeated 272 to 264, and a call to hold a public referendum on any divorce deal, which fell by 295 votes to 268. Both ideas got more support than the 242 votes secured by May’s deal this month.
A call to leave the EU without a deal was supported by 160 lawmakers and opposed by 400.
The plan is for the most popular ideas to move to a second vote Monday to find an option that can command a majority. Parliament would then instruct the government to negotiate it with the EU.