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May narrowly survives no trust vote, to seek Brexit consensus

Updated January 17, 2019

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PRIME Minister Theresa May speaks during a debate before a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.—AP
PRIME Minister Theresa May speaks during a debate before a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.—AP

LONDON: Prime Minis­ter Theresa May won a confidence vote in the British parliament on Wednesday before proposing immediate talks with other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock on a Brexit divorce agreement.

Lawmakers voted 325 to 306 that they had confidence in May’s government, just 24 hours after handing her Brexit deal a crushing defeat that left Britain’s exit from the European Union in disarray.

With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whe­ther, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

After the results of the confidence vote were anno­unced to cheers from Con­servative lawmakers, May said she believed parliament had a duty and a responsibility to find a solution that would deliver Brexit.

“We will continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise we made to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum,” she said.

“I would like to invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet me individually, and I would like to start these meetings tonight.”

If the prime minister fails, the United Kingdom could face a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit, a delay to Brexit, or even another referendum on membership. Some critics said she was not budging from the deal that had alienated all sides in parliament.

“Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Earlier, Labour’s spokesman John McDonnell said Theresa May could eventually get a deal through parliament if she negotiated a compromise with his party _ a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protection for workers and consumers.

But her spokesman said it was still government policy to be outside an EU customs union while May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the 2016 referendum, insisted Britain would leave the bloc as planned on March 29, leaving little time for a solution to be found.

Sterling had jumped by more than a cent against the dollar on news of May’s defeat on Tuesday and was holding close to that level on Wednesday. Many investors believe the prospect of a no-deal exit has receded as parliament hardens its stance against it.

Tuesday’s crushing defeat appears to have killed off May’s two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce in which a status-quo transition period would be followed by Britain operating an independent trade policy alongside close ties to the EU.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019