British Gov’t Faces No Confidence Vote After Historic Defeat For May’s Brexit Plan

By Patrick Goodenough | January 15, 2019 | 3:31 PM EST

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons. (Screen capture: YouTube)

(Update: Prime Minister Theresa May's government on Wednesday surived a no confidence vote, by 325-306, after rebels in her party and allies who had voted down her Brexit plan earlier returned to the fold to ensure the government's survival – and avoid the prospect of early elections or a party leadership contest.)

( – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government faces a vote of no confidence on Wednesday after the House of Commons Tuesday night rejected her deal for withdrawing from the European Union – by 230 votes, reportedly the biggest loss for a sitting government in the country’s modern history.

May, whose Conservative Party currently holds 317 seats in the 650-member House, saw her Brexit proposal defeated by 432 votes to 202.

Wednesday’s no confidence debate, called by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, could lead to early elections (if the government loses it, and is unable to win a further confidence vote within 14 days).

Britain, whose voters in the summer of 2016 voted by 52-48 percent to exit the E.U., is meant to leave the union on March 29, a deadline that now looks unlikely to be met.

The current composition of the House of Commons includes 317 Conservatives and 256 members of the Labour Party. Other major parties include the Scottish National Party (35 seats), Liberal Democrats (11) and Democratic Unionist Party (10).

Immediately after the vote, May told lawmakers the government would allow time on Wednesday for a debate on the no confidence motion.

If it wins a no confidence vote, she said – indicating that she believes it will – she would hold talks with members from her party, its partners, and across the House to determine what will be needed to win its support for a Brexit deal.

Recalling that she became prime minister immediately after the referendum in which the British people voted in favor of leaving the E.U., May said, “I believe it is my duty to deliver on their instruction, and I intend to do so.”

“Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancor,” she said. “The government has heard what the House has said tonight, but I ask members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the government to do just that.”

The biggest hurdle to have emerged in the Brexit negotiations relates to the future of the border between the Republic of Ireland – a E.U. member – and Northern Ireland, which as part of the United Kingdom would no longer be in the E.U., post-Brexit.

How the issue of people and goods crossing that border would be handled has given rise to serious complications, with concerns about the U.K.’s constitutional integrity and about how developments may affect the 20-year-old Good Friday Agreement, which sought to bring an end to the long-running conflict there. (See here for a BBC explainer on the so-called Irish “backstop,” a troubled attempt to resolve the border issue.)

Reacting to Tuesday’s vote on Twitter, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council (which comprises the 28 heads of government plus the E.U.’s top two officials) implied that the most obvious solution was for Britain to simply remain in the union.

“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” he wrote.

A “no deal” Brexit, alluded to in Tusk’s tweet, would mean Britain and the E.U. fail to agree on the terms of the divorce, the split would be abrupt, with Britain leaving the single market and customs union without any transition period.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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