British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote by the slim margin of 325-to-306, after which she called for immediate meetings with leaders of parliamentary parties to discuss the future direction of her government.
The crushing defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement that May helped formulate was immediately followed by a no-confidence vote that was called by the Leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
The scale of May’s defeat caught most observers off guard, including those who had predicted that her plan for Brexit would be resoundingly defeated in a generally hostile parliament. Most analysts, however, knew that the 118 Conservative MPs and the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs that voted against the Withdrawal Agreement were unlikely to bring down the government.
During the debate on January 16, May argued that going to the polls at this point would be “the worst thing we could do,” while the leader of the opposition accused her of leading a “zombie government” that had no negotiating credibility or a parliamentary majority.
A weak Conservative government gives Northern Ireland’s Protestant Democratic Unionist Party more influence than ever. At the same time, they are well aware that a Labour government under Corbyn could give the Catholic population of Northern Ireland a referendum on reunification with EU member, Ireland, to the south.
As for Conservative backbenchers, hardline Brexit supporters reject the possibility of a Customs Union membership that has been advocated by the Labour Party, while Europhile MPs are not keen on the prospect of a government that is set to advance a series of nationalisation programmes, including those in strategic industries like Britain’s railway system.
Without Conservative and DUP support, the Labour Party could not muster majority support in the parliament, even with the backing of the Liberals, Greens, as well as Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties.
For the time being, May’s leadership seems safe even if a large number of parliamentarians reject her overall authority as the UK attempts to move forward ahead of the March 29 deadline when Britain will officially withdraw from the EU.
May’s precarious position makes the current political deadlock more difficult. She refused to rule out the possibility that she will attempt to secure an extension of the negotiation period to outline the process for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. This would dramatically reduce the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit but will infuriate Conservative Eurosceptics, particularly those advocating for a hard “no deal” Brexit.
Under EU law, the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 – the provision that gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally and remain in the bloc.