British PM narrowly wins confidence vote in Parliament

May gets slim majority only with Northern Irish party's support

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has narrowly won a confidence vote in Parliament, highlighting the weakness of her Conservative Party which lost its majority in a shock general election result last month.

Only with support from the small ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was Mrs May's legislative programme - known as the Queen's Speech - approved on Thursday after 323 votes in favour and 309 against in the 650-seat Parliament.

Mrs May's minority government had to concede it will fund abortions in England for Northern Irish women, to fend off a threatened revolt by MPs in a separate vote.

This last-minute concession led the opposition Labour Party to withdraw an amendment to the Queen's Speech demanding the state-run National Health Service in England stop charging women coming from the province, where abortion is illegal except when the life of the mother is in danger.

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A vote on Labour's amendment would have threatened to expose cracks in the working arrangement between Mrs May's party and the anti-abortion DUP.

Mrs May's personal authority is deeply damaged after calling the election three years early, hoping to go into Brexit negotiations with a strengthened mandate. But instead of a landslide win, she suffered a rebuff from voters which has left her exposed.

Mrs May cut short a trip to Berlin on Thursday with European allies ahead of next week's Group of 20 summit, to ensure she was present for the vote.

  • 10

    Number of DUP MPs who will vote with the 318 Conservatives on key issues

The majority of the Bills in the Queen's Speech concerned Britain's departure from the European Union (EU), on which the first formal negotiations took place last week.

Mrs May's Brexit plan to quit the single union and customs union is under severe scrutiny as pro-EU members of her government sense an opportunity to use her weak position to force concessions.

Calls to prioritise jobs over immigration controls are growing, particularly from Finance Minister Philip Hammond.

He criticised eurosceptic Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this week over his claim that Britain could "have its cake and eat it" in the negotiations.

Mr Hammond has emphasised the need for transitional deals to avoid a damaging "cliff edge" when Britain leaves the EU, though Brexit Minister David Davis has appeared to slap him down.

Labour, which won 262 seats in the election, officially accepts that Britain will be leaving the single market but wants "full tariff-free access" to protect jobs.

Mrs May announced a deal with the DUP on Monday where they agreed to back her government in confidence and budget votes, in return for an extra £1 billion (S$1.8 billion) in state aid for Northern Ireland. The DUP's 10 MPs will vote with the 318 Conservatives on key issues.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'British PM narrowly wins confidence vote in Parliament'. Print Edition | Subscribe