Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote on Tuesday night (12 December) but it came at a heavy price, as she lost the support of nearly 40% of her Conservative MPs and the opposition hinted it may soon mount its own challenge against her.
117 Tory MPs voted against May while 200 backed her, a result which will hardly strengthen her position.
Speaking following the vote, May acknowledged that a “significant number” of her MPs had voted against her but vowed to continue with her Brexit deal. She said that she would “seek legal and political assurances” on the controversial Irish backstop.
May added that her “renewed mission” was “delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone.”
Meanwhile, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC that “I accept the confidence vote result but Theresa May should still meet the Queen and resign.”
Under the Conservative party’s rules, May’s leadership cannot be challenged again for at least twelve months. Conservative MPs briefed that May had told them she did not intend to lead the party in the next general election due in 2022.
However, the opposition Labour party has hinted that it is close to tabling its own no-confidence motion in May’s government. If carried, that would trigger a general election.
Brexiteers were angry that the vote was held on the same day as the 48 letters from individual MPs needed to trigger it were submitted to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee. They complained that the vote should have been held the following Monday to give them a chance to campaign among colleagues and agree on a candidate to challenge May.
Nor will the vote change the parliamentary arithmetic in the House of Commons.
Earlier on Tuesday, former Brexit Secretaries Dominic Raab and David Davis teamed up with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, to promote their own alternative Brexit plan that “removes the poison pills that have prevented the draft Withdrawal Agreement from finding cross-party support”.
The alternative plan is based around a new 10-year, extendable backstop to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter with an agreement to deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures, including specific solutions for the Irish border.
May will address EU leaders on Thursday night at the European Council summit in Brussels as she seeks to obtain further changes to the Irish backstop, designed to avoid a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, but which has proved bitterly controversial among Conservative MPs.
EU officials have warned that they will offer no substantive concessions.
Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the no-confidence vote as “utterly irrelevant”, calling on May to “halt this escalating crisis that is so damaging to so many people in this country”.
The UK is set to leave the European Union on 29 March and, if the Withdrawal Agreement May reached with Brussels is not endorsed in the House of Commons, the country will crash out of the bloc with no deal.