But a month later, rifts over Europe run so deep MPs have triggered a leadership contest that some members fear could tear apart a centuries-old institution.
May vowed to fight for her job yesterday ahead of a no confidence vote triggered by Conservative MPs, saying a change could jeopardise Britain’s divorce from the EU.
While a party split may still seem a distant option, former Conservative Party leader William Hague and former attorney general Dominic Grieve have both raised the spectre of an end to the Conservative Party in its current form.
With her job on the line, May too appealed yesterday for an end to the bitter Conservative infighting.
“Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just as we should be standing together to serve our country,” she said outside her Downing Street office. As the scheduled date for Britain’s departure from the EU on March 29 draws near, Brexit supporters are doing little to hide their disdain for the government or their pro-EU colleagues.
The Conservative Party, which returned to power in 2010 after more than a decade of Labour Party rule, has been divided over the EU for decades.
May’s decision to delay a parliamentary vote on the deal this week provoked anger among members because ministers had promised until the very last minute it would go ahead.
One had confirmed Britain must push head with the debate just hours before May’s U-turn. “Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it,” pro-Brexit campaigners Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker said in a statement. “In the national interest, she must go.”
Pro-EU Conservatives were equally entrenched. “I think this is a disgraceful move by a small group of people who are engaging in their ideologically driven self-interest,” Conservative MP Anna Soubry said yesterday.
For many Brexit supporters, trust in the government has long been undermined. They felt May had taken on their Brexit platform of leaving the EU’s single market and customs union when she launched the negotiations to leave. But that confidence has been whittled away since she lost the party’s majority in an election in June 2017.
The Labour Party is now pressing for an election. But Labour is also deeply divided over Brexit. Reuters