Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

Theresa May survives confidence vote: what happens now?

After Wednesday night’s victory, the British prime minister will head back to Europe for a summit in Brussels

Her victory may not have been as authoritative as she wanted, but Theresa May easily saw off the challenge to her leadership on Wednesday by 200 MPs to 117. She vowed on the steps of 10 Downing Street after the vote that she would be going back to Europe to bring up the issue of the backstop which has caused her so much trouble with her own Conservatives and allies the Democratic Unionist Party.

What will take place over the next nine days until Westminster shuts down for the Christmas period - and beyond?

Theresa May goes to Brussels to try to extract more concessions

Mrs May plans to attend a two-day summit starting on Thursday in Brussels and will try to convince remaining EU leaders to sweeten the divorce deal now on the table. Europe’s key power brokers have said they are unwilling to renegotiate the legally binding agreement that has been agreed to by Mrs May’s government and the bloc’s other members, although some leaders have indicated a willingness to consider statements that might make it easier for Mrs May to persuade the reluctant Parliament to pass the plan.

Can Europe still help her out?

Some reassurance was on offer from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who said on Wednesday that an orderly Brexit can still be achieved: “We have little time left, but we do still have enough time.” The main sticking point, as it has been almost from the start of negotiations, is the post-Brexit relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the backstop proposal to cover against any future re-imposition of a hard border between the two.

Ireland and thus the EU will not countenance any diminution of the backstop, but may change some of the language around the withdrawal agreement to allow Mrs May to persuade some wavering MPs that she had achieved substantive concessions from Europe.

When does she need to bring a new deal back to the House of Commons?

Mrs May has said she intends to bring the proposed agreement to Parliament for a vote by January 21. This is the vote that was originally scheduled for Tuesday night, but which the prime minister pulled from the schedule after recognising that MPs would reject the deal if they considered it then.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, so there is significant time pressure for progress. And without significant changes to the treaty as it applies to Northern Ireland, which the EU is unlikely to grant, the deal she returns with will not be radically different from its current iteration.

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Where do the Brexiteers go from here?

Her victory on Wednesday means that Conservative Party members cannot try to oust May as their standard-bearer in the next year. However, the scale of Wednesday’s backbench revolt – with more than a third of the parliamentary party voting against her – mean that she has very little room for manoeuvre. Should members of the European Research Group, which includes a small number called the ‘suicide squad’ who would be willing to bring down Mrs May, deem all other solutions unacceptable they could vote with an opposition motion of no confidence in the government.

This would be the ‘nuclear option’ and could see scores of Tory MPs losing their seats in a subsequent election, possibly leading to a future schism that would see the Conservative party split into many factions.

Updated: December 13, 2018 05:39 PM

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