London, UK : Theresa May has delayed a fresh Commons showdown over her Brexit deal until the new year as she acknowledged it will take time to win the assurances she is seeking from EU leaders.
After the UK Prime Minister survived a bruising no confidence vote by her party’s MPs on Wednesday, Downing Street said the “meaningful vote” on the Withdrawal Agreement would not now be brought to Parliament before Christmas.
Arriving in Brussels for an EU summit, Ms May acknowledged she needed fresh assurances from EU leaders regarding the operation of the Northern Ireland backstop if the agreement was to get through the House of Commons.
However, she played down the prospect of an “immediate breakthrough” during the two-day gathering in the Belgian capital.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, suggested there could be a special Brexit summit in January to agree “additional assurances” which could be attached to the Political Declaration on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
A Downing Street spokeswoman confirmed that it was the Government’s aim to hold the vote in the Commons “as soon as possible in January”.
The vote had been due to take place on Tuesday, but was dramatically pulled after the whips warned the Prime Minister she was heading for a heavy defeat unless she delayed.
The move was met with anger on all sides, prompting a further flurry of letters from Conservative MPs which triggered Wednesday’s no confidence vote.
While Ms May said she was “grateful” to those MPs who backed her, with more than a third of the parliamentary party calling for her to go, she accepted their concerns had to be addressed.
“My focus now is on ensuring that I can get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line, because I genuinely believe it’s in the best interests of both sides – the UK and the EU,” she said.
In a last minute change to the summit arrangements, the Prime Minister was addressing the EU leaders and taking their questions on Brexit at the end of opening session on Thursday.
She will then leave while the remaining 27 discuss their response over dinner.
EU leaders indicated their willingness to help Ms May through “clarifications” to the Brexit deal, but were adamant they would not re-open negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement.
French President Emmanuel Macron said: “We cannot reopen a legal agreement, we can’t renegotiate something which has been negotiated over several months. We can have a political discussion in this context.”
Irish premier Leo Varadkar, who held a lengthy one-to-one meeting with Ms May ahead of the main summit, said she had to honour her commitments on the backstop, intended to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In particular, he insisted there could be no “unilateral exit clause” as some MPs are demanding amid concerns that the UK could be tied to EU customs arrangements if the backstop is activated.
“If the backstop has an expiry date, if there is a unilateral exit clause, then it is not a backstop. That would be to render it inoperable,” he said.
Reports from Brussels on Thursday suggested EU leaders were considering a draft document stating the bloc “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” to the UK on the backstop.
It said that if the backstop was ever activated, the EU would seek to ensure it “would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary”.
But such assurances are unlikely to satisfy hardline Brexiteers who have been demanding the backstop is dropped altogether.
EARLIER : British PM Theresa May Wins No-confidence Vote
Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May has won the confidence vote with 200 out of 317 Tory MPs supporting her to stay on as leader
Theresa May, survived the gravest threat yet to her embattled leadership on Wednesday, winning a confidence motion called by Conservative Party lawmakers angry at her handling of the country’s troubled departure from the European Union.
But the victory celebration, if any, is likely to be short-lived. While Mrs. May survived to fight another day, her win did nothing to alter the parliamentary arithmetic that forced her this week to delay a critical vote on her plan for withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit.
John Springford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute, said that the size of the vote against her “is an even clearer signal that she won’t be able to get her deal through Parliament, and makes it even more likely that when she puts the deal to the vote she will lose that.”
Mrs. May won the support of 200 Conservative lawmakers, while 117 voted against her.
She won only after promising that she would step aside soon after the Brexit agonies were over, according to reports from a meeting of Conservative Party lawmakers preceding the vote. That removed the generally unwelcome possibility that she would stand as party leader in the next general election.
One Conservative lawmaker, George Freeman, said that Mrs. May had made clear “that she has listened, heard and respects the will of the party that once she has delivered an orderly Brexit, she will step aside for the election of a new leader.”
Players on all sides of the Brexit mess breathed a sigh of relief at Mrs. May’s victory. Under the Conservative Party’s rules, she cannot be challenged again by her own lawmakers for another year, which at least offers some stability for moving the plan forward. Had she lost, the Conservatives would have been thrust into a divisive, drawn out process that would have stretched well into the next month and threatened the country’s ability to reach a deal by the March deadline.
The ultimate choice of prime minister would have been left to the 120,000 Conservative Party activists who generally seem to favor a clean break with the European Union, even if that means the messy, potentially disastrous prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Nevertheless the victory came at a price, laying bare the opposition within her own party ranks to Mrs. May, who leads a government that has no parliamentary majority, and whose Brexit plans are in limbo.
The confidence vote was called early Wednesday when, after weeks of discord, at least 48 Conservative lawmakers submitted the letters of protest required to force it. Mrs. May canceled a trip to Dublin where she had hoped to talk to her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, about changes that might help build support in the British Parliament for her Brexit proposals.
But it had already been clear that she was in deep political trouble, battered from multiple directions by her management of the European Union withdrawal. In particular, many hard-line Brexit supporters within her party believed she was not making a complete enough break with the bloc.
In recent days, she suffered two embarrassing setbacks in Parliament. Last week, the House of Commons voted her government in contempt of Parliament — the first time any prime minister had been censured in that way — for failing to release the advice her government’s lawyers had given on Brexit.
And on Monday, she postponed a vote on the Brexit agreement she had negotiated with the European Union, acknowledging that it stood to be defeated by “a significant margin.” In fact, lawmakers say, views on the topic, which has dominated British politics for nearly three years, are so fragmented that no approach has majority support in Parliament, and probably not among Conservatives, either.
A defiant Mrs. May appeared Wednesday morning outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, to argue that the only beneficiaries of a vote of no confidence would be the opposition Labour Party.
“I will contest that vote with everything I’ve got,” she said.
Now that she has survived Wednesday’s confidence motion she faces an uphill task to garner sufficient support for her withdrawal agreement with the European Union, a lengthy legal document that Brussels has warned is the only deal on the table.
On Thursday she is scheduled to travel to Brussels to meet leaders of the 27 other European Union countries to try to secure some reassurances that might help her win a vote on the Brexit plans. She has promised to allow lawmakers to decide the matter by Jan. 21. If there is no agreement then, Britain could be facing a chaotic departure on March 29.
There could be a second referendum, a mutually agreed extension of the negotiating period or even, as Mrs. May has warned her party, no Brexit at all. What does not seem to be in the cards, for now, at least, is the general election that the opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been angling for throughout the Brexit process.
While Mrs. May has maintained a public face of optimism over securing some pledges from the European Union intended to reassure her own lawmakers, she is unlikely to win any game-changing concessions.
Her strategy appears to be to delay the critical vote — now probably in the middle of January — and to hope that the growing risk of a disorderly departure brings some lawmakers back into line. But many doubt that will work.
“Clearly, her last throw of the dice is count down the clock and try to bounce people into voting for it,” Mr. Springford said. “But I am not convinced she will win that vote. I don’t think that she can get meaningful concessions from the European Union that would be enough to get her over the line.
“The best hope is that everybody calms down over Christmas, that they start to really worry about no deal, and that some more moderate people signal that they will support her. But everyone is now so high up their pole that I am not sure they can climb down.”
In Brussels, diplomats said they could see little benefit from Mrs. May’s travails, and that no new British leader would be able to change the fundamentals of the 585-page divorce agreement negotiated so painfully.
That applies to the so-called backstop that the pro-Brexit lawmakers are particularly incensed about. That provision would insure the free movement of goods over the Irish border in the event that a free trade agreement is not reached in the two-year transition period after Brexit. What is especially galling for the Brexiteers is that it will continue indefinitely, or until the European Union decides it is no longer needed.
The main fear is that there is no majority in Parliament for any kind of Brexit deal, one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity according to diplomatic protocol.
“Even the funny elements of this are actually tragic,” said another diplomat. “I still hope Beckett, Kafka and Havel are not those who will finish writing this piece.”
EARLIER : Theresa May Faces No-confidence Vote Amid Brexit Chaos
British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a no-confidence vote by members of her Conservative Party Wednesday, amid her beleaguered plan to leave the European Union.
Conservative lawmakers will conduct a secret ballot Wednesday evening, prompted after they received the 48 letters required to start the proceedings. The vote is expected to last two hours, The Independent reported.
The movement for the no-confidence vote was galvanized when May abandoned a vote Tuesday in the House of Commons on her Brexit deal after acknowledging it didn’t have enough support.
May argued Wednesday that an effort to remove her would set Britain back in reaching a fair deal with the European Union.
“I will contest that vote with everything I have got,” she said Wednesday.
“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,” she added. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21 January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament.”
“The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by [the March 29 deadline].”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the Euroskeptic group of backbench Conservatives, called May’s Brexit deal “undeliverable” and blasted her handling of the negotiations.
“This is not governing, it risks putting [Labor Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn into government by failing to deliver Brexit,” Rees-Mogg said, Politico’s Europe edition reported. “We cannot continue like this. The prime minister must either govern or quit.”
If May loses the vote, the party will immediately start looking for a successor. If she doesn’t, lawmakers wouldn’t be able to hold another no-confidence vote for 12 months — a virtual guarantee May will stick around for the completion of Brexit negotiations.