Pressure Builds on May As Brexit Hardliners Close Ranks

More and more Conservatives want May gone. The Brexit faction in the party is uniting behind Boris Johnson.

British prime minister Theresa May speaks at the United Nations in New York, September 20, 2016
British prime minister Theresa May speaks at the United Nations in New York, September 20, 2016 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Pressure is building on Britain’s Theresa May as Brexit and the ambitions of her foreign secretary widen divisions in the ruling Conservative Party:

  • The Sunday Times reports that forty Conservative lawmakers are now calling for a confidence vote in May’s premiership, eight short of the number required to trigger a leadership election.
  • Daily Mail reports that pro-Brexit ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are holding May hostage by threatening to walk out unless she pushes for a clean break with the EU.
  • Gove and David Davis, another Brexit hardliner, have rushed to Johnson’s defense after the foreign secretary mistakingly said a British NGO worker was held in Iran for “simply teaching people journalism” there. Iranian prosecutors seized on his statement to argue for extending Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison sentence. She has been accused of plotting against the Iranian state.

The roots of the problem:

  1. May must balance factions supportive and skeptical of Brexit. If she is seen as too close to one side, the other will rebel.
  2. Johnson’s ambitions. He has always — and only — been interested in the top job. Read Martin Fletcher’s profile of him in the New Statesman for more.