London: Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership was in jeopardy and faced a possible vote of no confidence after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Indian-origin minister Shailesh Vara and two other ministers resigned Thursday from her divided Cabinet over UK's 'half-baked' divorce deal with the European Union.
Minutes after Vara stepped down as Northern Ireland minister, Prime Minister May was hit by a bigger blow as her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned from the Cabinet saying he 'cannot in good conscience' support the draft of the withdrawal agreement with the 28-member bloc.
Hours after a spate of resignations, prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg directly challenged May in the House of Commons. He later submitted a letter of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party.
Vara, Conservative Party MP for North-West Cambridgeshire, who has been a minister in the Northern Ireland Office since January, said, "We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown that they do not have our best interests at heart. We can and must do better than this. The people of the UK deserve better."
He attacked the draft withdrawal agreement which would form the basis of the UK's exit from the EU by March, 29, 2019 as a "half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation".
The resignation of Raab, the man involved with the actual drafting of the agreement with EU counterparts, throws Prime Minister May's leadership in turmoil.
Raab, who took charge as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU after his predecessor David Davis stepped down in protest over May's Brexit negotiations in July, said the proposed arrangement to avoid a post-Brexit border with Northern Ireland is a "very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom".
"I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit. No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to exit the arrangement," he said.
Raab's resignation was followed by another pro-Brexit minister, work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, announcing that she is resigning from the Cabinet over the issue.
Another junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman quit over Brexit, shortly after her former boss Raab quit office.
The resignations are being seen as a sign of bigger troubles ahead for May, who defended the deal before belligerent MPs in the House of Commons.
Making a statement on the withdrawal agreement, dubbed the Outline Political Declaration, at the heart of the intensifying rebellion, May said she respected the views of her Cabinet members who chose to resign but delivering Brexit involves difficult choices.
"The choice is clear. We can choose to leave with no deal. We can risk no Brexit at all. Or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated....," May said in her statement.
"When I first became Prime Minister in 2016, there was no ready-made blueprint for Brexit. Many people said it could simply not be done. I have never accepted that. I have been committed day and night to delivering on the result of the referendum and ensuring the UK leaves the EU absolutely and on time," the defiant prime minister said.
However, the spate of resignations triggered earlier in the day is expected to continue to play out as her leadership remains under siege.
There were already rumblings that while she claimed the Cabinet had collectively given its backing to her deal, many ministers had spoken out against it and were not entirely happy with the final text.
The biggest sticking point remains over what is termed as a Northern Ireland backstop, which leaves the EU with the option of keeping the whole of the UK within a common Customs Union if a future trading relationship fails to be thrashed out during the 21-month transition period, set to run until December 2021.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, attacked Prime Minister May in his response to May's statement on Brexit to the House of Commons.
He said May's negotiations that resulted in Wednesday night's draft Brexit deal with the European Union had ended in a 'huge and damaging failure.'
Corbyn demanded that the government should withdraw the deal.
"The government simply cannot put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected," he said.
The markets also reacted sharply, with the British Pound falling heavily against most major currencies after Raab's resignation.
Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up the minority Tory government, have also been vocal in their criticism, threatening to break their deal with the Conservatives and vote down the deal.
The fresh turmoil comes as Britain continues to try and thrash out the basis of its exit from the EU, after a referendum over its membership of the economic bloc resulted in a 52 per cent vote in favour of Brexit in 2016.
As the chaos within government circles gathers momentum, calls for a second 'people's vote' over the issue of Brexit is also gaining ground.