Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to fight for her job on Wednesday after Conservative lawmakers triggered a challenge to her leadership, saying a change could jeopardize Britain’s planned divorce from the European Union.
In a stark warning to Brexit-supporting opponents who instigated the challenge, May said if they toppled her then the EU exit would have to be delayed and perhaps even stopped.
“A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the January 21 legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs (lawmakers) in parliament,” said May.
“A new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by March 29. So one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it,” she said.
With less than four months until the United Kingdom is due to exit on March 29, Brexit has been plunged into chaos.
Speaking outside her Downing Street residence hours before the vote on her leadership, May said she would battle for her premiership with everything she had.
A secret ballot will be held between 1800 and 2000 GMT on Wednesday in a room at the House of Commons, and an announcement made as soon as possible afterward.
According to the rules, May could be toppled if 158 of her 315 lawmakers vote against her, though a significant rebellion could also end her career. At least 75 Conservative lawmakers had expressed public support for her by 0940 GMT.
Brexit is Britain’s most significant political and economic decision since World War Two though pro-Europeans fear it will divide the West as it grapples with the presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
The outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion (£2.24 trillion) economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom, and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centers.
The British pound, which has lost 25 cents against the U.S. dollar since the 2016 referendum, fell on the confidence vote but then rose to 1.2528 on news Brexit might have to be delayed.