Activists wearing masks of Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May and Pedro Sanchez pose at an artwork in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Saturday. Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May should set a date for her departure next week when she meets leaders of an influential group of Conservative lawmakers to address her future, the group’s chairman said on Saturday.
Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, which can make or break party leaders, told BBC Radio that May had been asked to give “clarity” at next Wednesday’s meeting after she failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament, leaving the government in a state of limbo.
“It would be strange for that not to result in a clear understanding (of when she will leave) at the end of the meeting,” he said.
May, who secured the leadership in the chaos that followed Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, has promised to step down if lawmakers back the deal she struck with Brussels to leave the bloc.
But the prime minister has lost heavily on three attempts to get it through parliament, defeated by lawmakers in her own party who want a much more comprehensive break from Brussels and those who want a second referendum to reverse the process.
Brady, head of the group which oversees the party’s leadership contests and represents the wishes of backbench lawmakers, said he thought May had been reluctant to set a date because of the impact it would have on any future Brexit vote.
“I think the reticence is the concern that by promising to go on a certain timetable, it might make it less likely she would secure parliamentary approval for the withdrawal agreement, rather than more likely,” he said.
Tensions within the Conservative Party have grown after May failed to deliver Brexit on the original deadline of March 29. The prime minister has since opened talks with the opposition Labour Party to try to find a compromise before the next departure date in October.
The deadlock damaged both parties at local elections earlier this month and could have a similar impact when elections are held for the European Parliament on May 23.
One of the Conservative Party’s prominent financial backers, Jeremy Hosking, told the Financial Times he had donated 200,000 pounds to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party because the European elections had become, by default, a second referendum on Brexit.
Guy Verhofstadt, a prominent yet divisive Belgian MEP, said on Friday that Brexit had already harmed Britain, as he rallied with europhiles in London ahead of this month’s European elections.
At a campaign event with the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, the head of the European Parliament’s liberal group added Britons can still “change their opinion” over the country’s stalled exit from the bloc.
“It’s already clear that Brexit has done far more damage than has ever been predicted by those who made the campaign,” he told a phalanx of reporters after arriving in the British capital.
“People can change their opinion, that is happening,” said Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and the European Parliament’s pointman for Brexit.
He predicted the European Parliament elections − taking place in Britain on May 23 − would show “huge support” for staying in the EU.
Britain voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, and was scheduled to exit on March 29 this year.
But its departure has twice been delayed after MPs repeatedly rejected the divorce deal Prime Minister Theresa May struck with Brussels.
The deadlock has left the country with little choice but to hold the polls, despite the government planning still to leave the bloc within months.
A new Brexit Party founded by anti-EU populist Nigel Farage has surged in opinion polls, while the Liberal Democrats have been buoyed by a strong showing in local elections across England last week.
Standing alongside its leader Vince Cable in a leafy residential square in north London, Verhofstadt said his pan-European liberal grouping was united ahead of a “difficult fight”.
“We want to be the alternative for nationalism and populism,” he added.
Verhofstadt is a toxic figure for British eurosceptics and the country’s right-wing newspapers.
After a BBC documentary aired this week showing his staff calling May “pathetic” and “insane” amid the Brexit saga, best-selling tabloid The Sun labelled him a “slimeball”.
Verhofstadt said Friday his aides’ comments were shown “out of context.”