October 2, 2018 / 10:59 AM / 13 days ago

Alternative Brexit conference shows threat to May from party rebels

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - A day after Prime Minister Theresa May urged her party to use their annual conference to unite behind her Brexit plans, rebel members of parliament were running out of patience with her decision to proceed with proposals many feel do not make a clean enough break from the EU.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the ICC for the third day of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A few streets away from the main conference venue in the English city of Birmingham, eurosceptic lawmakers told Reuters her so-called “Chequers” plans were dead and that parliament would vote them down.

“We would be failing to deliver the referendum mandate under the Chequers proposal,” said Priti Patel, a former minister in May’s government, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU.

“There can be no halfway house,” she told Reuters. “We promised the British public that we were going to leave the European Union.”

With less than six months before Britain is due to leave the EU, there is still no full exit agreement and eurosceptic rebels in her party are threatening to vote down a deal even if May clinches one.

The fate of May’s government and her Brexit plan is in doubt because it is unclear whether she can command the 320 votes she needs in the House of Commons, the lower house of the British parliament, to approve a deal.

During the event, billed as the alternative Brexit Advance Coalition Conference, audience members were asked to vote on who would be best to lead the party.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of a faction of Brexit hardliners in May’s party, came top of the poll with 49 percent of the vote in the room. May only received 1 percent.

Ninety-six percent of those attending said they opposed her plans for leaving the EU.

“It never ever represented the instructions that the British people gave in the referendum,” said Bill Cash, a veteran Eurosceptic lawmaker.

Andrea Jenkyns, who resigned from her role within May’s government as a parliamentary private secretary over the summer, said Brexit was now in danger of being scuttled by the government.

“Our party members don’t want it, the public doesn’t want it, the opposition aren’t going to vote for it, the EU doesn’t want it, so we must chuck Chequers,” she said.

But MPs and members said they do not want a snap election or a replacement for May as prime minister just yet.

“We are determined not to have another election,” said Daniel Kawczynski, a lawmaker for a region in western England. “I think it would be the height of folly and irresponsibility to keep going back to the people with more general elections and more referenda.”

But Kawczynski said if the prime minister refuses to deviate from her plan then he would consult the opinion of his constituents and party members.

“If she can’t bring along people who are in this audience and people in my association, then of course her position would ultimately be precarious,” he added.

Editing by Andrew MacAskill and Stephen Addison

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