May seeks support for Brexit even as calls for no-confidence grow

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 17, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May   -  Getty Images

Gets backing from two senior Ministers

Britain’s political crisis continued on Friday as Prime Minister Theresa May maintained her determination to push forward with the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, even as a growing number of Conservative MPs submitted letters calling for a letter of no-confidence in her in the hope of triggering a leadership contest.

While 20 MPs have publicly submitted such letters to the Conservative Party’s 1922 backbench committee (to which at least 48 must submit letters to trigger a vote), May gained a significant boost as Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Liam Fox, Trade Secretary, indicated their support for her and their intention to remain within the government. A resignation by Gove, in particular, would have been seen as particularly damaging to May and her ability to stay on as Prime Minister.

However, she is far from out of the woods: Gove indicated that he wanted to focus on getting “the right deal in the future” and declined journalists’ questions on whether he supported the existing deal, suggesting that he and others may be staying on within the government to seek to exert influence for change. This could present major challenges, as Europe has treated the agreed text as the final one on the table. “We now have a document on the table. The UK and EU27 have agreed to this,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said according to a report in Germany’s Deutsche Welle.

Beyond seeking support of her Parliamentarians, May launched a drive to garner public support too, first addressing a press conference on Thursday, and second conducting a phone-in on LBC Radio on Friday morning in which she took calls from members of the public to defend her deal. May has repeatedly insisted that leadership is about taking tough decisions rather than easy ones, and that her deal is the best one that could still be achieved in order to fulfil pledges made to people across the UK (including the pledge made to Northern Irish voters to avoid a hard border in the island).

However, public opinion remains very divided: a poll by Sky News on Thursday found that just 1 in 7 believed the Prime Minister’s deal was better than either crashing out without a deal or staying in the EU, while 54 per cent prefer to remain in the EU, and 55 per cent favour a second referendum.

The road ahead remains very uncertain. Triggering a vote of confidence is a risky strategy for the Conservatives as, if it fails, they will not be able to trigger another one for at least another year, giving May the political space to be able to push forward with her deal.

Tricky situation

If a vote is triggered and May loses, it is far from clear who within the party would command sufficient support to take Britain forward in the negotiations. Even if May wins and takes her deal forward, it looks almost certain to be defeated in Parliament, if current indications are anything to go by, with many Conservative MPs joining Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party in voting against it. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party has also indicated it will vote against it.

Published on November 16, 2018

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