Pessimism plagues British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Experts have repeatedly talked down her chances of negotiating a palatable Brexit deal. Her attempt to forge a centrist path through British politics has failed. It is almost universally assumed she will be turfed from her party’s leadership before the next election.

The country’s former chancellor George Osbourne famously declared Ms May was a “dead woman walking” more than 16 months ago. He said the only question was “how long she is going to remain on death row”.

She has made it this far because there is no clear alternative leader.

Even if there was, that person would undoubtedly prefer to watch Ms May oversee Britain’s exit from the European Union — and cop the inevitable political backlash that will follow — before moving in to replace her.

All of which, it must be said, is very depressing for Ms May.

But today, she finally has something positive to crow about. Her Cabinet has approved a draft Brexit deal. She may yet succeed where everyone believed she would fail.

Unless she doesn’t. Because every torturous step Ms May has taken so far has been the (relatively) easy part. Now she is facing the most perilous threat to her leadership yet.

Theresa May has been under siege all year. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP

Theresa May has been under siege all year. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFPSource:AFP

The Cabinet may have signed off on her deal with the European Union, but it remains deeply divided.

The five-hour meeting in Downing Street ran to almost double its intended length, as ministers engaged in what Ms May described as a “detailed and impassioned debate”. The British media reports up to 11 of them spoke out against the deal.

Meanwhile, the prominent Brexiteers not bound by Cabinet solidarity vented their fury.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the deal was “worse than the gossip and the rumour and the leaks”.

“Now that I’ve seen it, it’s worse than I thought,” he told ITV.

“It fails the Prime Minister’s own promises, and that’s the most concerning thing, because a Prime Minister must not promise one thing and do another.”

Mr Rees-Mogg has written to every Conservative MP explaining why they should oppose it.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker predicted the agreement “will be in bits in a couple of days”.

Boris Johnson, who resigned as Ms May’s foreign secretary over Brexit, said it was “vassal state stuff” and “utterly unacceptable to anyone who agrees with democracy”.

UKIP, the controversial minor party which spent years campaigning for Brexit, described the deal as “abject surrender” and urged its supporters to “fight back”.

Its former leader Nigel Farage said it was “the worst deal in history” and “any Cabinet member who is a genuine Brexiteer must now resign or never be trusted again”.

Ms May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy wrote a scathing piece for the UK Telegraph, labelling the agreement a “capitulation” to Europe.

“British compromises were inevitable. But the proposal presented to Cabinet is a capitulation,” he said.

“Worse, it is a capitulation not only to Brussels, but to the fears of the British negotiators themselves, who have shown by their actions that they never believed Brexit can be a success. This includes, I say with the heaviest of hearts, the Prime Minister.”

You may wonder why it matters that a few backbenchers and former staffers have come out so vociferously against the deal.

It’s because nothing can actually happen unless it is approved by a majority in Britain’s parliament.

Ms May leads a minority government, and a large chunk of her own party could vote against her, forcing her to rely on support from minor parties or even the Labour opposition.

If her proposal is voted down, it could make her leadership untenable and force a change of prime minister.

It’s always illuminating to examine the front pages of Britain’s newspapers amid a major event like this. This time, there is a rough consensus that Ms May is on borrowed time.

She will need a majority of 326 votes in parliament, and there are only 316 Tory MPs, not all of whom will support her Brexit plan. So, where could the votes come from?

Today the Prime Minister spoke to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, all of whom sounded unconvinced.

“We had a frank meeting tonight with the Prime Minister lasting almost an hour. She is fully aware of our position and concerns,” Ms Foster said. Her party is currently propping up Ms May’s government by guaranteeing supply.

“It is obvious that the Prime Minister can barely unite her Cabinet on this deal and it is also increasingly clear that she will struggle to get a majority for it in parliament,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“No one should be effectively blackmailed into a choice between the frying pan and the fire.”

Mr Corbyn said the deal would result in a “catastrophic series of consequences” and “neither of these options (Ms May’s deal or no deal at all) is acceptable”.

It’s not looking good then.

Ms May might even be jettisoned from office before the vote takes place.

The Sun reports she could face a leadership contest within days. If 48 Tory backbenchers request a vote, the party will have no choice but to call one.

What will happen if Ms May falls? That is anyone’s guess. But it certainly won’t be pretty.

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