Theresa May has called on Britain’s political parties to “put self-interest aside” and work together on a compromise Brexit deal, hours after her government survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday night.
Lawmakers voted 325 to 306 in favor of the government remaining in power, one day after they rejected the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal by 230 votes, in the biggest defeat for any UK government in the modern parliamentary era.
In a statement to the nation after the confidence vote, May admitted that “the events of the past 24 hours will have been unsettling” to the public, but urged lawmakers to come together to “find a way forward.”
“So now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what Parliament does want,” she said. “It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done.”
With just 72 days to go until Britain leaves the European Union, May now faces an uphill battle to bring together political parties with competing objectives – not least several factions within her own Conservative party – to strike a deal that can win a majority in Parliament.
May said she had already held “constructive meetings” with leaders from several smaller opposition parties to discuss next steps, and added that more talks would take place on Thursday.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, earlier refused to hold talks with May until the government agrees to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
“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,” the Labour leader said.
May in control, but weakened
In what perfectly sums up the chaotic state of British politics at the moment, many of the MPs who cast votes of confidence in the government on Wednesday were the same ones who voted against its signature policy – the Brexit deal – the night before.
May’s defeat Tuesday was largely due to a rebellion led by the right wing of her party. But if there is anyone the arch-Brexiteers dislike more than May, it’s Corbyn – someone they had no intention of opening the door for to become Prime Minister.
This week’s developments have left May in control, but weakened and without a clear path forward to delivering a Brexit deal before the March 29 deadline to leave the EU.
Britain now ultimately has several options: to delay Brexit, to leave the EU with a renegotiated deal, to crash out of it without a deal, or to flip the past two-and-a-half years into reverse and not exit at all.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Environment Secretary Michael Gove wrapped up the six-hour debate by tearing into Corbyn and praising May’s “inspirational leadership.”
Gove spoke after Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told the Commons that Conservative MPs “know in their hearts that this Prime Minister is not capable of getting a deal through.”
However, the Cabinet minister criticized Watson for failing to mention Corbyn once. “We have several things in common – we’ve both lost weight, him much more so. We’re both friends of Israel – him much more so. And we both recognize that Mr. Corbyn is about the worst possible person to lead the Labour party,” Gove heckled.
What happens now?
Despite clinging onto the reins, the next few days remain treacherous for May.
She has three days to come up with an alternative Brexit approach that British lawmakers can agree on. As a way to achieve consensus, May has offered cross-party talks with lawmakers, something which she promised the government would approach in a “constructive” manner.
On Monday, May will then return to Parliament to lay out her alternative Brexit plan. If she can get it approved by lawmakers, May will look to eventually take a revised deal to EU leaders.
It sounds simple, except there’s no guarantee the EU would agree to reopen negotiations. It took over two years of painstaking debates and negotiations for May to even secure approval from EU leaders for her original (and now defeated) plan. And the clock is ticking.
If no agreement can be reached, the UK edges towards crashing out of the EU without a deal altogether, in what will be an incredibly messy split.
While May has maintained that she wants the UK to leave the EU on March 29 as scheduled, she has hinted that the deadline could be extended. Earlier on Wednesday, May told the Commons the only way the EU would extend Article 50 is if “it was clear that there was a plan that was moving towards an agreed deal.”