British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government survived a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday (Jan 16) triggered by a historic defeat of her Brexit deal, but left Britain no clearer on the path forward to leaving the European Union.
She won by 19 votes, with 325 MPs saying they supported the government while 306 said they did not.
The no-confidence motion had been tabled by the opposition on Tuesday, following Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of Mrs May’s Brexit deal, 432 to 202.
Her Conservative Party backed her in the no-confidence vote, although one in three of its MPs had voted against her deal just the day before.
But faced with the prospect of a general election and a Labour takeover if her government was toppled, they opted to allow her to live to fight another day.
After her victory, Mrs May invited leaders of other parties to meet her to discuss Brexit, beginning that very night.
She went on to meet leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Welsh party Plaid Cymru, and afterward, in a statement delivered outside 10 Downing Street, called for unity and reiterated that she intended to continue delivering on the people’s decision to leave the EU.
Referring to that decision made in the 2016 referendum, she said: “Now, over two and a half years later, it’s time for us to come together, put the national interest first and deliver on the referendum.”
Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn, however, refused to have substantive talks with Mrs May unless she ruled out a no-deal Brexit, leaving them in a deadlock.
Responding to the outcome of the vote, Mr Corbyn called on her to categorically rule out a no-deal Brexit - the worst-case scenario for many politicians and businesses due to the political and economic upheaval it could bring - saying it was a prerequisite for talks.
“Last night, the house rejected the government’s deal, emphatically. A week ago, the house voted to condemn the idea of a no-deal Brexit. Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government must remove, clearly and once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of no-deal and all the chaos that would come as a result of that,” he said.
But Mrs May’s spokesman said that leaving the EU without a deal would not be taken off the table.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear that the British public voted to leave the European Union. We want to leave with a deal but she is determined to deliver on the verdict of the British public and that is to leave the EU on March 29 this year,” said the spokesman.
Mrs May had stood firm on the March 29 departure date earlier during the no-confidence debate, saying that the EU would consider giving Britain more time to negotiate under Article 50 of its treaty only if there was a credible alternative.
“The government’s policy is that we are leaving the European Union on the 29th of March. But the EU would only extend Article 50 if actually it was clear that there was a plan that was moving towards an agreed deal,” she said.
The afternoon had seen several lawmakers deliver fierce speeches during the debate on the no-confidence motion. Mr Corbyn accused Mrs May of leading a “zombie government” that could not get its legislation through Parliament as he called for her ouster.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson slammed Mrs May for failure of leadership, saying: “No one doubts her determination, which is generally an admirable quality. But misapplied, it can be toxic.
"And the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary skills, the political skills, the empathy, the ability and, most crucially, the policy to lead this country any longer."
He criticised her for drawing red lines which were not supported by a majority of lawmakers, shutting out Parliament, and placating the most extreme of her colleagues.
He added: “Because she has refused to resign, we now face a choice between a general election to sort out this mess or continued paralysis under her leadership.
“The question facing the House tonight is whether it is worth giving this failed Prime Minister another chance to go back pleading to Brussels. Another opportunity to humiliate the United Kingdom. Another few weeks to waste precious time. Our answer tonight must be a resounding no,” he said.
But Environment Secretary Michael Gove - a prominent Brexit campaigner - tore into Mr Corbyn in his closing speech, saying that he was not fit to lead the Labour Party.