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May to address her lawmakers after attacks over Brexit

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will address Conservative Party lawmakers at a private meeting in parliament on Wednesday after anger at her Brexit negotiating strategy prompted some of them to discuss replacing her.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the back entrance to Downing Street in London, Britain, October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

May asked to address her divided partys powerful “1922 Committee” where she can expect questions from lawmakers, some of whom have discussed forcing a leadership contest.

But her request to attend the committee meeting signals that she does not expect a febrile situation, which earlier this week pushed investors to sell Britains sterling currency on fears of political upheaval, is to flare into a formal challenge.

With just over five months to go until Britains scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, Mays Brexit negotiation has stalled over a disagreement on a fallback plan for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Many business leaders and investors fear politics could scupper an agreement, thrusting the worlds fifth largest economy into a “no-deal” Brexit they say would spook markets and clog up the arteries of trade.

Companies will suffer and criminals could benefit from the inevitable border disruption that will ensue if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, the countrys public spending watchdog said on Wednesday.

May failed to clinch a deal at an EU summit last week and her decision to raise the possibility of extending a post-Brexit transition period — keeping Britain under EU governance with no say in it to help end the deadlock — has angered both hardline supporters of Brexit and pro-EU lawmakers.

An Ipsos MORI poll on Wednesday showed a record 78 percent of voters lacked confidence in May to get a good deal from Brussels, compared to 70 percent in September.

“And yet, the public dont put all the blame at her door – and nor is there much evidence that they would have much more confidence in anyone else,” said Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the back entrance to Downing Street in London, Britain, October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Many Conservative Party lawmakers are wary of toppling a leader on the eve of Britains most significant political and economic move it joined the bloc in 1973. Many also fear an election could bring the opposition Labour Party into power.

FIRST CIRCLE OF HELL

EU sources have told Reuters that British negotiators proposed that Britain could stay long term in a customs union with the EU, during talks that reached close technical agreement on a possible deal 10 days ago.

On Wednesday, the Times newspaper reported that leaked cabinet papers suggested that Mays Brexit plans could leave Britain in a “long-running” multi-year transition period despite her promise that it would last only a few months.

Mays office said the newspapers report was “nothing more than a partial reflection of advice given to ministers and not of decisions taken”.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“The PM …doesnt want to enter into an additional implementation period, she doesnt believe one will be necessary. Were it the case … she would want it to come to an end well before the end of the parliament,” her spokesman said.

The Times said her attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, compared Mays Brexit plans at a cabinet meeting on Monday to Dantes “first circle of hell”.

Ever since losing her party its majority in parliament with a botched bet on a 2017 snap election, May has faced talk of a leadership challenge.

But there was a change of tone in the British media this week, with some newspapers carrying unusually bloodthirsty language by unidentified opponents.

One said May was entering “the killing zone”, while another said May should “bring her own noose” to the 1922 committee meeting.

A vote of no-confidence in May would be triggered if 48 Conservative lawmakers submit letters to the chairman of the 1922 committee to demand such a vote.

The Sunday Times said 46 had now been sent and the BBCs political editor said on Monday that the 48 number had not yet been reached. The number of letters held by the committee chairman is not made public.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and William James; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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