LONDON — Brexit has been delayed. But for many of the lawmakers who could ultimately decide its fate, there is no breathing space from Britain’s messy and at times toxic divorce from the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Parliament for the chaos in a televised address to the public. And as lawmakers prepare for a week in which they could seize control of the process, many have warned that they fear for their safety amid an increasingly bitter and divisive mood in the country.
Anna Soubry, a member of parliament (MP) for Nottinghamshire who quit May’s ruling Conservative Party over her handling of the issue, said she could not go home this weekend as she doesn't feel safe.
"We are tired of being called traitors," she told reporters Friday. "When people use that language, the next thing that happens is I get an email that says — traitors get beheaded, that's what should happen to you."
In her address on Thursday, May accused lawmakers of doing everything possible to avoid making a choice on Brexit, adding that people were tired of infighting, political games and arcane procedural rows.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum, including May's own colleagues, said they felt her speech would only make matters worse.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said May’s “attack on the integrity of MPs is very unfortunate” while opposition Labour MP Wes Streeting tweeted that May’s speech was “incendiary,” adding that “if any harm comes to any of us, she will have to accept her share of responsibility.”
Pete Wishart, an MP from the Scottish National Party, said the prime minister’s speech left a few of his colleagues “feeling just a little bit more insecure” and called for an emergency debate on the security of lawmakers.
Anger bordering on hatred against politicians is something the U.K. has had to grapple with before.
Last fall one of the country's most prominent Brexit supporters, Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg, was ambushed by protesters outside his London home while with his family.
Perhaps with such incidents in mind, Deputy House Speaker Lindsay Hoyle wrote to MPs earlier this week advising them to take steps to ensure their safety, such as travelling home by taxi or with colleagues.
“Members of Parliament are the focal point of public attention in a manner that we have rarely seen before,” said Hoyle.
The government rejected the suggestion that the speech had put lawmakers at risk.
May later addressed the backlash herself but stopped short of an apology, saying: “I expressed my frustration and I know that MPs are frustrated too — they have difficult jobs to do.”
Next week Parliament seems set to embark on a series of so-called indicative votes that could allow lawmakers to take back control of the Brexit process.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions that May's days as prime minister may be numbered.
I’m afraid it’s all over for the PM. She’s done her best. But across the country you can see the anger. Everyone feels betrayed. Government’s gridlocked. Trust in democracy collapsing. This cant go on. We need a new PM who can reach out & build some sort of coalition for a PlanB.