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2018-07-10 — nbcnews.com

British Prime Minister Theresa May was trying to save her government Tuesday after it was damaged by a series of resignations over the nation's Brexit crisis.

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The turmoil came on top of preparations for this week's controversial visit by President Donald Trump and a thorny NATO summit meeting.

At the heart of the problem is progress, or lack of it, toward Britain's departure from the European Union, which former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Sunday described as "an exercise in economic masochism that Britons will long regret."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis quit within hours of each other, along with a handful of junior ministers and aides.

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The resignations blew apart May's claim to have finally secured backing for her vision of Britain's future relationship with the E.U. -- a plan that was only agreed on Friday.

Their departure also exposed the scale of Britain's disarray: With only 262 days left until it leaves the trading bloc, and more than two years since the process began, the U.K. government still hasn't agreed what it wants Brexit to look like -- never mind negotiate with the E.U. to make it happen... The resignations triggered open warfare among Conservative lawmakers, who demanded May change her plan or stand aside... [reflecting] a decades-old fault line running through the Conservative Party over Britain's role in Europe, and whether it should be in or out of the E.U. The 2016 Brexit referendum was supposed to have settled the argument once and for all; instead, it appears to have deepened it.

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May has yet to publish her blueprint in full, but some details have leaked since they were circulated to ministers at Friday's 12-hour Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's Chequers country residence.

A three-page summary posted on the government website says Britain wants "a common rulebook for all goods" with the E.U. after Brexit -- ensuring that foods and consumer products would have the same standards.

The Chequers plan also proposes a "combined customs territory" between the U.K. and the E.U. but says "different arrangements" will be made for services "where it is in our interests to have regulatory flexibility."

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The mechanism by which Britain leaves the E.U., which is known as Article 50, has already been triggered and is theoretically irreversible.

But many anti-Brexit lawmakers are clinging to hopes that the whole project could be abandoned as too complex or unworkable.

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Tusk has said in the past that Britain could still change its mind and stay in the E.U. -- but that would require all other 27 nations in the bloc to agree and waive the terms of Article 50, which seems politically inconceivable after two years of painful divorce talks.

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