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The British government is in so much trouble, it's planning an early vacation

Posted July 16, 2018 8:41 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2018 7:02 a.m. EDT

— The beleaguered government of British Prime Minister Theresa May is proposing that the UK parliament should break for summer five days earlier than planed, in a move that has been criticized as a desperate attempt to ease the pressure on her leadership.

Members of Parliament will vote on whether to start their summer recess five days early -- beginning this Thursday instead of next Tuesday. They would not return to work until September 4.

It comes as May faces one of the lowest points in her leadership since a snap general election last year that spectacularly backfired on her Conservative Party.

Earlier this month two of May's top Cabinet ministers -- Brexit secretary David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson -- quit over what they see as a watering-down of the UK's blueprint for leaving the European Union.

Then on Monday night, May narrowly fended off a rebellion from pro-EU members of her party, following her decision to incorporate hard-line Brexit amendments into a customs bill.

Amid this tumultuous backdrop, an early holiday could offer the breathing space May needs to rally support ahead of further Brexit negotiations.

But Labour MP Angela Rayner called the vote "pathetic," adding that the "Tory hierarchy are afraid of their own MPs."

PM faces renewed criticism from all sides

May's latest Brexit bill squeezed through on Monday, with lawmakers voting 319 to 285 in favor of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill designed to create an independent customs policy for Britain after it leaves the European Union.

The government was able to push through the legislation after agreeing to accept four amendments put forward by euroskeptic members of Parliament.

However, after allaying the euroskeptic wing of her party, May faced renewed criticism from the opposite side, exposing the deep divisions over the EU that exist within the Conservatives and have previously brought down Tory governments.

Rebellion from pro-Europe MPs in her party saw May narrowly avoiding defeat on two of the amendments by just three votes, 303 to 300, with the Prime Minister dependent on pro-Brexit opposition lawmakers to get the changes through.

Chequers fallout

The controversial amendments were seen by many as an attempt to sabotage May's Chequers agreement -- a plan for Brexit hatched at May's official country residence and seen by some on the Tory right as too soft -- announced last week.

The original Chequers agreement caused the resignations of Davis and Johnson. The latter claimed the Chequers deal would leave the UK in the status of a "colony" to Europe and claimed the Brexit "dream was dying."

Several junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries also resigned over the deal.

Other critics of the deal, many linked to the arch-conservative parliamentary European Research Group (ERG), have advanced several amendments that would appear to undercut key parts of the agreement -- specifically on arrangements for Northern Ireland, trade tariffs and customs duties.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the ERG, said Friday the deal "does not respect the referendum result" and recreated "many of the worst aspects of the EU the British people voted to leave."

Parliamentary rebellion

The government had initially opposed the ERG amendments, but then reversed course.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament before the vote Monday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Downing Street had accepted the changes because it believed "they are consistent with" the Chequers agreement.

"Members of the government front bench ... should be hanging their heads in shame," Anna Soubry, a former Cabinet minister under May's predecessor David Cameron, said in Parliament.

"This is the stuff of complete madness. The only reason the hovernment have accepted the amendments is that they are frightened of around 40 members of Parliament -- the hard, no-deal Brexiteers -- who should have been seen off a long time ago."

She added that "these people do not want a responsible Brexit; they want their version of Brexit."

Soubry's stinging criticism was followed by the resignation of yet another government member, junior defense minister Guto Bebb, who had supported the May's initial deal but objected to the amendments.

His resignation was seen by many as a dangerous sign for May, who is now facing potential unrest from both sides of her party.

"Theresa May is stuck in the middle with no one," CNN's Bianca Nobilo wrote ahead of Monday's vote. "It's a good thing for her right now that despite the ever present threat of a leadership contest, no one else seems in a rush to take her place."