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PM May poised to win no-confidence vote

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 16, 2019 Published on January 16, 2019

The British government led by Theresa May is facing a vote of no confidence – which it looks likely to win – on Wednesday evening at the end of a debate on a motion tabled by Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who accused the government of failing the country.

It follows the huge defeat suffered by the government on Tuesday night, when MPs resoundingly rejected the government’s Brexit withdrawal deal by a margin of 230 – the largest ever loss by a British government in modern history. The margin was considerably larger than the 166 votes by which the minority government of Ramsay Macdonald lost a vote in 1924, which Corbyn said would have led any other leader to do the “right thing” and resign. If she claimed to have the support of the public, she should have “nothing to fear from going to the people” and letting them decide in a general election, he insisted.

“If the government cannot get its legislation through Parliament, it must go to the country for a new mandate and that must apply when it’s on the key issue of the day,” he told a raucous session of the House of Commons on Wednesday, ahead of the vote that is set to take place around 7 pm local time.

Should he win it, Labour – the official opposition – would have 14 days to put together a governing majority and should it fail to do so, another general election would be called. Under Britain’s fixed term parliament legislation, a general election would only otherwise take place in 2022.

The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which had a supply and confidence agreement with the government but which voted against it on the withdrawal deal, made plain it will vote with the government on the no confidence vote, as did members of the European Research Group, made up of hard Brexiteers, who had opposed the withdrawal deal also because of the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. Even Conservative advocates of a soft Brexit said they would vote with the government, including the outspoken proponent of a second referendum, Anna Soubry, who described Corbyn as the “most hopeless leader of the opposition” Britain had ever had.

With the votes stacked firmly in favour of the government, Corbyn’s motion is therefore seen more as an opportunity for them to attack the government across a wide range of issues, which Corbyn did in setting out his motion – covering issues ranging from rising levels of poverty, to the crisis in the NHS, the Windrush scandal and police staffing levels.

However, May shot back insisting Corbyn’s strategy and a new general election would lead simply to division, chaos and delay and was not in the national interest, criticising its economic policy, as well as the anti-Semitism controversy within the party, among other issues.

Govt in crisis

A victory for the government in the vote won’t put an end to the crisis engulfing it. Under a requirement imposed on it by Parliament, she must return to the House of Commons with a plan B by Monday, though this is not expected to represent a major change from what was put to MPs before.

May had been hoping that she could go back to Brussels to ask for changes that could then be put to Parliament again in a vote but given the scale of the defeat, EU leaders are likely to see little point in making efforts on this, only to be rebuffed again.

Some “hard” Brexiteers hope the lack of any alternative on which people will agree on could mean that, with the clock ticking down Britain will have to crash out of the EU without a deal, and resort to WTO rules. This remains a highly likely scenario as the default situation – if nothing were agreed further – would mean Britain leaving without a deal on March 29.

An orderly exit

May who had long insisted that “no deal” was better than a bad deal with the EU, told MPs that she had wanted Britain to leave the EU in an “orderly way with a good deal” and called on MPs to clarify what they supported if it wasn’t her deal. “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 that.”

The real wild card in all of this is Corbyn. He’s so far insisted his party will also abide by the result of the referendum though the party had previously conceded that they could back a second referendum if their attempt to get a general election failed. However, recent comments have suggested he may instead push for more revisions to May’s deal, in particular remaining in the customs union and securing more workers rights – as well as a delay to Brexit. He has, however, ruled out supporting a no-deal exit, which he says would be disastrous for the country.

On Wednesday, he declined to say whether any future Labour manifesto would include a commitment to delivering Brexit, insisting that all options remained on the table in discussions with Europe, were Labour to win a general election.

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Published on January 16, 2019
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