For the second time in as many months, British Prime Minister Theresa May has narrowly avoided the early end of her premiership by surviving a vote of no-confidence related to her handling of Brexit.
This evening, the House of Commons defeated a no-confidence motion made by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday following the historic defeat of her negotiated withdrawal agreement with the European Union. The vote on the no-confidence measure was 325-306 against after both the pro-Brexit European Research Group and the prime minister’s confidence-and-supply allies in the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland refused to bring an end to the current government.
DUP Commons Leader Nigel Dodds noted that had the 10 members of his faction voted the other way, the headlines tonight out of the Palace of Westminster would be much, much different. His party has remained resolute in its opposition to the original withdrawal agreement’s “Irish Backstop” provision, which had been required by Ireland to prevent the creation of a hard border on Brexit Day.
Following the vote, May said she was ready to immediately begin holding meetings with all of the other party leaders and senior MPs to develop alternative “Plan B” withdrawal terms that she would bring back to the Commons on Monday:
“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit and I urge others to do the same. But we must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this house.”
Corbyn immediately refused to negotiate with May until the prospect of a “no-deal Brexit” is taken off the table, a move that would hamstring the prime minister in any possible negotiations with the EU on a better withdrawal agreement. Meanwhile, the other minority parties’ leaders demanded that the opposition leader change the Labor Party’s official stance on Brexit.
Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, and Plaid Cymru of Wales leader Liz Saville Roberts have all demanded that the official position of the opposition be to press for a second Brexit referendum. The movement is growing momentum, slowly, with more than 70 Labor MPs, including eight “front benchers,” also supporting a second “people’s vote.”
May has repeatedly said the UK people have already had their vote in 2016, when they backed leaving the EU by a 52-48 margin. A few moments ago, the prime minister emerged from No. 10 to deliver the following statement:
“This evening, the government has won the confidence of Parliament. This now gives us all the opportunity to focus on finding a way forward on Brexit.
“I understand that to people getting on with their lives away from Westminster the events of the past 24 hours will have been unsettling. Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit and also address the other very important issues they care about, but the deal which I have worked to agree with the European Union was rejected by MPs, and by a large margin.
“I believe it is my duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union and I intend to do so. So now MPs have made clear what they don’t want; we must all work constructively together to set out what Parliament does want. That’s why I’m inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward, one that both delivers on the referendum and command the support of Parliament. This is now the time to put self-interest aside.
“I have just held constructive meetings with the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Westminster leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. From tomorrow, meetings will be taking place between senior government representatives, including myself, and groups of MPs who represent the widest possible range of views from across Parliament, including our confidence and supply partners, the Democratic Unionist Party.
“I am disappointed that the leader of the Labor Party has not so far chosen to take part, but our door remains open.
“It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus, and get this done. In a historic vote in 2016, the country decided to leave the EU. In 2017, 80 percent of people voted for parties that stood on manifestos promising to respect that result. Now, over two and a half years later, it’s time for us to come together, put the national interest first, and deliver on the referendum.”
Interestingly, many British political observers noted the final statements for both sides during the daylong debate over the no-confidence vote perhaps provided a preview of Prime Minister’s Questions debates of the future. Deputy Labor Leader Tom Watson made the opposition’s closing argument, while Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove offered an equally fiery rebuttal.
(Photo Credit: No 10 Downing Street)