UPDATE: Theresa May has won the no-confidence vote triggered by the Brexit dilemma, will stay on as British prime minister.
British Prime Minister Theresa May could be ousted as leader by her own Conservative Party Wednesday. And if she is, this could further unravel the Brexit deal, causing economic uncertainty for the country.
Less than four months before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union (EU) on March 29, May is facing a vote of confidence on her leadership. But the prime minister said she is fighting for her position, adding the move will only derail Brexit.
READ MORE: How does a no-confidence vote work?
“A change of leadership in the Conservative Party now would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it,” May said. “Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just as we should be standing together to serve our country.”
Many Conservative lawmakers have been growing angry with May over her handling of Brexit, and the challenge comes days after she postponed a vote to approve a divorce deal with the EU to avoid a defeat.
WATCH: Theresa May did not vote for Brexit but it could end her career
How it could derail Brexit
May needs a simple majority, 159 of 317 Conservative lawmakers, to remain leader.
If she wins the confidence vote, she cannot be challenged as Conservative leader for at least another year.
But if she loses Wednesday’s vote, she must step down and there will be a contest to choose a new leader, which could take up to six weeks.
A new leader may not have time to renegotiate a deal with the EU and secure parliamentary approval by the end of March, meaning Brexit would have to be delayed or stopped altogether, May said.
Senior ministers in the U.K. parliament warned that changing a leader at such an important moment in British history would be damaging.
WATCH: Jeremy Corbyn calls Brexit deal ‘dead,’ calls for no-confidence motion
Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid expressed his dismay about the confidence vote over Twitter.
“The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong,” he said.
Britain’s Justice Secretary David Gauke warned that Brexit would have to be delayed, possibly for six months, if May is toppled.
“If she loses tonight, whoever is prime minister will have to delay article 50 … I think that some of my leave colleagues should bear that in mind when they vote this evening,” he said.
But the EU has repeatedly warned it would not allow an extension of the two-year negotiating period.
There is also the option of cancelling Brexit.
On Monday, EU’s top court ruled that Britain could cancel its Article 50 notice to leave without permission from other members and without losing special privileges.
What are the consequences?
If May’s deal fails and Brexit is neither delayed nor stopped, then Britain could be heading towards a disorderly no-deal exit that investors fear will wreak havoc on trade and financial markets.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said politicians should understand the impact of their “high stakes gambles” with Britain’s $2.8-trillion economy.
“At one of the most pivotal moments for the U.K. economy in decades, it is unacceptable that Westminster politicians have chosen to focus on themselves, rather than on the needs of the country,” he said.
WATCH: This is what you need to know about the Brexit draft
He added there was “utter dismay” among businesses about the vote on Wednesday evening.
Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said the current turmoil is “weighing heavy” on entrepreneurs.
European Council President Donald Tusk has said the “seriousness” of the situation in the U.K. means the EU must accelerate its no-deal planning.
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press