May heads for Brussels after surviving rebels' challenge

Saul Bowman
December 14, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday won by a large margin a confidence vote by her fellow Conservative members of parliament.

"The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative party leadership election", Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in a tweet.

Here are the front pages she woke up to this morning after the latest tumultuous few days for her leadership.

"He would be an extraordinary moment for the Conservative Party - the first muslim Conservative Party leader, son of an immigrant bus driver who made it the hard way - that's an impressive story in itself".

Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader and a Brexiteer who voted against May in Wednesday's vote, said he wanted to "send a strong message" to the PM.

May was reportedly greeted with applause, and the traditional banging of desks as she went into a House of Commons Committee Room reserved for the vote to address her MPs before they began casting their ballots.

British Prime Minister Theresa May (C) returns to 10 Downing Street after a confidence vote in London, Britain, on December 12, 2018.

But at a closed meeting with Conservative lawmakers before they were due to decide her fate, she announced she would not take the party into the next election due in 2022, two lawmakers present told reporters.

At the very least it provides some certainty in that markets know the United Kingdom leader will remain unchanged during the crucial 2019 Brexit as a new leader might have been more inclined to opt for a "no deal" Brexit.

In a secret ballot, 200 Conservative MPs voted to keep May as leader, whilst 117 MPs voted to sack her. "I will support her through current events, but I can not vote for a motion that I believe will irrevocably weaken the United Kingdom for years to come".

"She doesn't believe that this vote today is about leading the party into the next election", said the source.

The alternative plan is based around a new 10-year, extendable backstop to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter with an agreement to deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures, including specific solutions for the Irish border.

"That would mean reopening the substance of the Withdrawal Agreement and the European Union is unequivocal that is not an option". I would urge all colleagues to get behind her, give her their full support.

Her best hope would be to reach out to Labour MPs, presenting them as having a choice between her deal and a no-deal departure from the European Union in March.

"What is being looked at now seriously is how a political declaration can be put together that is real, that provides reassurance for many in Westminster who need it, that the backstop represents no threat to them, no threat to the United Kingdom". Brexit fatigue is very real, and the British people just want it over, but the question remains, how? However, because their party was decimated in the 2015 general election, they have but 11 MPs, and therefore comparatively less influence.

May has bought herself some time, but not much.

She pledged to seek "legal and political assurances" on the Brexit backstop to allay MPs' concerns about her Withdrawal Agreement when she attends a European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday. Her lack of overall majority in the House of Commons continues to be her main domestic weakness.

Conservative MPs have been warned by chief whip Julian Smith not to absent themselves from parliament next week, because the government must be "alive to opposition tactics in the run-up to the recess".

If Mrs May can not secure legally-binding changes to her deal and it falls in the Commons, she has pledged to bring forward a motion by January 21 laying out what she will do next.

What Happens If May Still Can't Get the Votes for Brexit?

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