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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

UK PM Theresa May will not run in next general election

EU offers battered UK premier little hope of compromise even after confidence vote win

Theresa May confirmed on Thursday she would not lead her divided Conservative Party into the next general election during a trip to Brussels for an EU summit.

After winning a confidence vote in her leadership, Mrs May said she would be seeking legal assurances from EU leaders on the “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland in a bid to get her own MPs to support the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

But both Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron said there was no hope of renegotiating the agreement during interviews on Thursday.

Mrs May said she did not expect as "an immediate breakthrough" on the issue but hoped to get assurances that the backstop was temporary which would "assuage" concerns from members of her party who wanted her gone.

The prime minister was supported by 200 of her Conservative colleagues in the confidence ballot but a sizable number, 117, voted to oust her.

Her political survival was greeted with a mixture of pragmatism and weary relief by senior EU figures who said that they would intensify planning for a future without any deal on their post-Brexit relationship in place after the indecisive victory.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, welcomed the victory and said he would look forward to welcoming Mrs May to the leaders’ summit.

“Glad about the outcome of tonight’s vote in the UK,” he wrote in a tweet.

Despite facing down rebels in her own party, EU leaders have signalled that she cannot expect any major concessions to help push her vision of Brexit through a sceptical UK parliament.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had no intention of changing the exit agreement. Senior EU officials publicly backed the position of Mr Varadkar, who has refused to budge on the key issue over the future of the border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. He said on Thursday there was no other "credible fallback" option that could replace the backstop plan which is detested by Conservative Party rebels.

In a sign that he wished to bypass Mrs May's government, Mr Varadkar floated the idea to Sky News that parliament could revoke Article 50 in order to allow more time for Brexit talks.

The prime minister cancelled a vote on the deal in parliament earlier this week when it became clear that she would be facing a heavy defeat, triggering events that led to her no-confidence vote.

Dutch daily De Volkskrant describe her victory as a “Houdini act” in reference to the famous escapologist but warned that EU leaders no longer wanted to be held hostage by the dire political drama in London.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator for the European parliament, said he believed that the vote showed that a “disastrous no-deal" was off the table but said that the EU would intensify its planning for that scenario.

“Once again, the fate of EU-UK relations, the prosperity of businesses and citizens’ rights are consumed by an internal Conservative party catfight over Europe,” he wrote in a tweet.

German daily Die Welt said that Mrs May was offering her party "the impossible" because of the refusal of EU leaders to budge. Her victory in the no-confidence changed nothing, it said, because her battle with Brussels had already been lost.

In a sign that the bloc were looking to post-Brexit horizons, leaders were more focused on welcoming plans for an EU-Japan free trade deal due to come into force next year than on Mrs May’s survival.

Updated: December 13, 2018 08:12 PM

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