Theresa May 'irritated' by leadership speculation

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Theresa May has said she gets “irritated” by the ongoing speculation over her position as prime minister.

In an interview to mark the six-month countdown to Brexit, Mrs May told the BBC the debate should be about the country’s future rather than her own.

The prime minister’s comments came days after Conservative MPs opposed to her Brexit plan met to discuss how and when they could force her to stand down.

The PM also criticised ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

Mrs May said his language was “completely inappropriate” when he described her Brexit strategy as putting the UK in a “suicide vest”.

The UK is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and the government’s plan – agreed at Chequers in July – has sparked criticism from Brexiteer Tories as well as the EU.

About 50 Brexiteer members of the European Research Group (ERG) met on Tuesday to discuss a leadership challenge.

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Asked if she would reassure the Tory party that she was not determined to go on and on, she told the BBC’s Panorama programme: “I get a little bit irritated but this debate is not about my future. This debate is about the future of the people of the UK and the future of the United Kingdom.

“That’s what I’m focused on and that’s what we should all be focused on.

“It’s ensuring that we get that good deal from the European Union which is good for people in the UK, wherever they live in the UK, that’s what’s important for us.”

Analysis by Chris Mason, political correspondent

After a week in which the prime minister was politically duffed up by one set of her MPs openly plotting to oust her, and by another set meeting in public to discuss how to derail her blueprint for Brexit, this is Theresa May’s response.

A few things stood out for me; her willingness, again, to embrace what was meant to be an unflattering description of her – by Conservative colleague Ken Clarke – that she was a “bloody difficult woman”, and laugh about it.

There was also her absolute insistence that her Brexit plan is the only one in town and she is sticking to it.

And finally the cold contempt, visible in her eyes, with which she addresses Boris Johnson’s description of her Brexit blueprint as being akin to a “suicide vest” being placed around the country.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

Read the full glossary here

As part of the so-called Chequers plan, Mrs May said she wants to strike a trade deal with the EU for after the UK leaves in 2019.

She also said there needs to be “friction-free movement of goods” with no customs or regulatory checks between the UK and EU on the island of Ireland, in order to avoid a hard border there.

The UK and EU are hoping to agree a way forward next month, at the same time as they settle the terms of the UK’s withdrawal, including a transition period up to the end of 2020.

Mrs May’s proposals are unpopular with many Tory MPs, who argue it would compromise the UK’s sovereignty.

Boris Johnson, who has been at odds with Mrs May’s vision for Brexit for some time, claimed last week that she had “wrapped a suicide vest” around the British constitution and “handed the detonator” to Brussels.

Mrs May said: “I was home secretary for six years, and as prime minister for two years now I think using language like that was not right and it’s not language I would have used.”

We voted in 2016 – why is it taking so long to leave?

Well, none of the major players has ever left the European Union before…

So there are some BIG problems to solve

Such as how we don’t end up worse-off economically

The EU has a "single market" – goods from other EU countries aren't taxed at the border

And people can also move around as if the EU was a single country

Outside the EU, the UK might have to pay more to buy from and sell to EU countries

This could also slow the flow of goods and parts, disrupting production for UK firms

The EU says Britain can’t cherry pick – keeping some benefits without membership

But that could mean the UK is freer to make other trade deals around the world

Any special deal the UK wants has to be approved by MPs first

Then the deal has to be agreed by 27 national parliaments across Europe

That’s a lot of people who need to agree with each other…

So, the date UK is meant to leave is 29 March 2019

But there are already plans for a 21-month transition period after that

During which the UK could still be governed by some EU laws

A trade deal between Canada and the EU took seven years to agree

However, as the UK’s already fully aligned with the EU, it could be quicker

But it is likely that we will all be talking about Brexit for a long time yet…

(If you can’t see the explainer, follow this link)

The prime minister also said the “bloody difficult woman” – a description which was used to describe her by former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke – was “still there”.

But, she added, “there’s a difference between those who think you can only be bloody difficult in public, and those who think actually you bide your time, and you’re bloody difficult when the time is right – and when it really matters”.

BBC Panorama, Inside No 10: Deal or No Deal? is on Monday 17 September at 20:30 BST on BBC One as part of a week on in-depth coverage across the BBC to mark Brexit: Six Months to Go.

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