She parried questions about cabinet defections. She asked a caller about the weather, only for him to ask for her resignation. She discussed her blood sugar levels.
Prime Minister Theresa May took the case for her much-reviled draft Brexit deal to the people on a Friday morning radio call-in show, emphasizing that the pact would end the free movement of people between Britain and the European Union and prevent a border from going up on the island of Ireland.
The agreement outlines Britain’s fee for leaving the European Union and the trade rules that could keep it tied to Europe (at least temporarily).
The deal may not be dead. But it’s certainly on life support.
All eyes turned on Friday to Michael Gove, a hard-line Brexiteer in Mrs. May’s cabinet who spurned an offer a day earlier to become Mrs. May’s next chief Brexit negotiator (two have resigned, including Dominic Raab on Thursday).
But on Friday morning, Mr. Gove said he’d stick it out in the cabinet. Whether he planned to stand behind Mrs. May’s deal or fight from within the cabinet for a cleaner break with Europe was a different question.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future,” he told reporters.
Much of the speculation on Friday centered on whether Mrs. May’s Conservative rivals in Parliament — those who believe she’s clinging too much to the United Kingdom’s ties with Europe — would seek to unseat her in a leadership challenge.
Let’s catch you up on why the deal’s prospects are so dim.
The prime minister said on Wednesday night that her cabinet of senior ministers had “collectively” decided to approve the deal. Left unsaid was that almost a third of the cabinet had voiced doubts.
By Thursday, several cabinet ministers had resigned. First out the door was Mr. Raab, the very man appointed to negotiate the withdrawal.
And Tory members of Parliament who support a cleaner rupture with Europe are submitting letters saying that they have lost confidence in Mrs. May, which could very soon trigger a vote on her future.
Mrs. May has weathered crisis after crisis as prime minister. But commentators say she has never looked as alone as she does now.
The agreement, struck between negotiators in Brussels and Mrs. May’s government, faces a long road ahead, even if Mrs. May manages to hold on to her job.
The first stop (if it gets that far) is a summit meeting of European Union leaders on Nov. 25. The deal has their support, and it will ultimately need the backing of the European Parliament.
More troublesome is a mid-December vote by the British Parliament, which also gets a say on the agreement. Mrs. May needs 320 votes there for a majority. By one estimate, she will have to cobble together about 85 of those from members of the opposition Labour Party and deeply skeptical allies.
The problem is that a divided country has finally been united — in disliking the deal.
For those who want Britain to remain in the European Union, the deal is worse than staying in the bloc under the current terms, because it forces Britain to adopt European trading rules without having a say in what they are.
For those who want to sever ties, it’s worse than a clean split from the European Union, because the agreement could trap the country in a regulatory system it can’t unilaterally leave.
The pound dropped around 2 percent against the dollar on Thursday, driven by the cabinet resignations and the sense that Mrs. May won’t be able to get the agreement past Parliament.
That’s the most volatile the pound has been in two years, after the Brexit referendum itself.
Also weighing on the pound was the prospect of a leadership challenge to Mrs. May and, potentially, a general election. That in turn could lead to a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn, who is regarded as unfriendly to the market.
When Mrs. May spoke to members of Parliament on Thursday morning, the only time she seemed to provoke real applause was when she said that deciding not to leave the European Union was one of the country’s three ways forward (the others being her deal and leaving without a deal at all).
She didn’t mean to excite people about the prospect, of course. Over and over again, she has ruled out holding another referendum.
But Labour members of Parliament repeatedly made the case that the political process was so broken that the only way forward was to give Britons a chance to decide on the exact terms of Brexit (or to not leave at all).
Even some Tory elected leaders were reported to be preparing to back a second referendum if Mrs. May’s deal was voted down.
There’s long been a campaign to force a second referendum, and some analysts say the fact that there’s a deal on the table reduces the likelihood of another vote. Still, pro-referendum rallies have been drawing big crowds in recent days.
The perception in some quarters of British politics, including from Mrs. May’s own former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, is that negotiators in Brussels got the better of the prime minister.
“It is a capitulation not only to Brussels,” Mr. Timothy wrote in a column in The Telegraph, “but to the fears of the British negotiators themselves, who have shown by their actions that they never believed Brexit can be a success.”
European leaders, as you’d expect, have shown little appetite for reopening negotiations in response to the pushback in London.
But Brussels seems to be worried about the possibility that the agreement will be torpedoed in the British Parliament.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said on Thursday that leaders would still gather on Nov. 25 to vote on the agreement — unless “something extraordinary happens.”
Read more here: NYT > Worldhappy wheels
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