Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street in London, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. May appealed directly to voters to back her Brexit plan Friday as she braced for a potential leadership challenge from rivals within her ruling Conservative Party. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

UK leader fights back against critics, defends Brexit deal

November 17, 2018 - 6:43 am

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May fought back Saturday against critics of her Brexit deal, telling her Conservative opponents that their alternative plans for Britain's departure from the European Union wouldn't work.

May is battling to win over rebels in her own ranks and save her leadership after a grueling week, with two Cabinet ministers quitting and other Conservative critics plotting to oust her immediately after Britain struck a divorce deal with the EU.

In a public relations offensive, May tried to win support in a Daily Mail interview that revealed how her husband supported her during what she admitted to be "a pretty heavy couple of days." She also laid into political opponents, saying the alternatives they favor to tackle a key stumbling block — the issue of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit — wouldn't resolve the problem.

"People say 'If you could only just do something slightly different, have a Norway model or a Canada model, this backstop issue would go away.' It would not. That issue is still going to be there," she said in the interview , published Saturday.

"Some politicians get so embroiled in the intricacies of their argument they forget it is not about this theory or that theory, or does it make me look good," she added.

Calling her husband Philip her "rock," May said that when the Conservative revolt erupted on Wednesday, the first thing he did was pour her a whisky.

While May appeared to have survived the week's political storm intact, her headache is far from over — disaffected "Brexiteers" believe they have the numbers required to trigger a challenge to her leadership within days. They are aiming for 48 letters of no confidence, the number needed for a vote under party rules. So far, more than 20 lawmakers have publicly said they submitted such letters.

One of them, Mark Francois, complained that May's draft deal would leave Britain with the worst outcome — "half in and half out" of the EU — and added that the deal would never successfully pass Parliament. Like Francois, many pro-Brexit Conservatives are pushing for a clean break with the EU, arguing that the close trade ties between the U.K. and the EU called for in the deal would leave Britain a vassal state.

British media also reported that several pro-Brexit senior Conservatives, including House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, are working to persuade May to change her Brexit plans and renegotiate the divorce deal to make it more acceptable to them.

EU leaders have called a Nov. 25 summit in Brussels to sign off on the draft withdrawal agreement. Britain is due to exit the EU on March 29.

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This version has corrected the spelling of the House of Commons leader's last name to Leadsom, not Leasom.

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