British Prime Minister Theresa May offered to immediately open cross-party talks to agree on a new Brexit deal after she narrowly survived a vote of no confidence late on Wednesday (16 January).
Although the previous day 118 Conservative MPs voted against May’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, they all swung behind her in the confidence vote which was defeated by 306 votes to 325.
Crucially, the ten MPs for the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party (DUP), who also opposed the Brexit deal, ultimately all backed the prime minister.
“We have a responsibility to find a plan and I invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to have private meetings starting tonight,” said May after the vote.
“We must find solutions that are negotiable and command a majority of the House,” added the prime minister.
But opposition party leaders promptly demanded that a ‘no deal’ Brexit be ruled out by the government.
“Before talks can begin the government must remove the prospect of the catastrophe of a no deal Brexit from the EU,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
So, too, did the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party, who added that a second referendum should also be an option.
The day of parliamentary theatre was prompted after Corbyn tabled the no confidence motion in the government minutes after MPs rejected the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal by 432 to 202 on Tuesday night.
The government is expected to present its proposals to MPs next Monday (21 January).
While May has survived temporarily, further confidence votes are expected in the coming weeks if the political impasse continues, while a number of senior Conservative MPs believe that a snap general election could still take place in the coming months.
Taking questions earlier on Wednesday morning, May appeared to leave the option of extending Article 50 on the table, but ruled out the prospect of moving towards the Labour party’s position of a permanent customs union with the EU.
“The principles that govern us as we go into these talks is that we want to be able to do our own trade deals, and that is incompatible with a customs union,” she said, adding that any Brexit deal would have to “open up new opportunities to trade with the rest of the world”.
French and German ministers, as well as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, hinted on Wednesday that they would be prepared to agree to an extension of Article 50.
Earlier, Bank of England governor Mark Carney told MPs on the Treasury committee that the surprising rebound of sterling on the currency markets following Tuesday’s vote reflected the view of analysts that the Article 50 process was likely to be extended and that the chances of a ‘no deal’ Brexit were receding.
“Public market commentary, consistent with our market intelligence, is that a rebound appears to reflect some expectation that the process of resolution would be extended and that the prospect of no-deal may have been diminished,” said Carney.