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May survives no-confidence vote, but troubles remain

December 14, 2018

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BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May conferring with some of the European leaders on Thursday.—AFP
BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May conferring with some of the European leaders on Thursday.—AFP

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a brush with political mortality on Wednesday, winning a no-confidence vote by Conservative lawmakers that would have ended her leadership of party and country.

May won the vote of 317 Conservative legislators with a 200-117 tally that reflected the discontent within the party over her handling of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The balloting came after May’s Conservative opponents, who circled the weakened prime minister for weeks hoping to spark a no-confidence vote, finally got the numbers they needed to call one.

The result was announced to loud cheers from lawmakers gathered in the wood-paneled room where they had voted. Under party rules, May cannot be challenged again for a year.

May had earlier vowed to fight for the leadership of her party and the country “with everything I’ve got,” and spent the day holed up in the House of Commons trying to win over enough lawmakers to secure victory.

In a bid to win over wavering lawmakers, May indicated she would step down before the next election, due in 2022.

Solicitor-General Robert Buckland said May told lawmakers at a meeting that “it is not her intention to lead the party in the 2022 general election.” Another Tory legislator, Nick Boles, tweeted: “She was unambiguous. She will not be leading the Conservative Party into the next election.” May has not said what she will do if, as many expect, there is an early election triggered by Britain’s Brexit crisis.

Seeks EU help, backstop battle

May said on Thursday she did not expect to secure a quick breakthrough in Brexit talks that would give her fractured party the reassurances needed to get her deal through parliament.

Arriving in Brussels just a day after a failed attempt to topple her at home, May was met largely by readiness to help from European Union leaders and one demand: tell us want you want. They all said they needed to know exactly what May wanted to secure in Brussels but also warned that Britain could not reopen the divorce deal, or withdrawal agreement, signed off by both sides in November.

While others tried to temper their language by expressing a desire to help May, French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out any legal changes to the agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was less strident, saying: “We can of course talk about whether there are additional assurances but in this the 27 EU members are together and will make their interests clear, although always in the spirit that we want very, very good relations with Great Britain after Great Britain has left the European Union.”

But while EU leaders said they wanted to help, a draft EU statement said they were merely “ready to examine” whether further assurance can be given.

The backstop is the main stumbling block for lawmakers in London who fear Britain will become stuck in the fallback arrangement, preventing it from striking trade deals beyond the EU.

The level of opposition to her deal was underlined earlier this week when May was forced to delay a parliamentary vote on her deal, designed to maintain close future ties with the EU, for fear of a defeat.

May, who met Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Brussels and EU summit chairman Donald Tusk, wants legal assurances that the backstop will not remain in place indefinitely.

The EU’s draft statement, seen by Reuters, reiterated that it prefers a new trade deal to triggering the Irish backstop and it would try to conclude one swiftly, even if the emergency border fix kicks in.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2018

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