Bruised May survives to fight another day

Crunch time: 63% of Tory MPs backed May, while 37% opposed her with 100% turnout. © Getty

Can she call this a victory? Last night, the prime minister won a vote of confidence in her leadership by 200 votes to 117. But some say her authority is now in tatters.

The prime minister’s political future hung in the balance. Last night, after a tumultuous week of delayed votes and letters of no confidence, Conservative MPs voted on whether to oust Theresa May as party leader.

At 9pm, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, announced the result to a hall of Tory MPs.

“The parliamentary party does have confidence in Theresa May,” he said, and the room burst into loud applause.

In the end, 200 Conservative MPs voted in support of May, while 117 opposed her. There was no applause as the numbers were read, just muted mumbles and gasps.

It was a victory, but a narrower one than the prime minister might have hoped.

And it came at a cost. In a desperate plea to win support from wavering MPs ahead of the ballot, May promised that she will not lead the Tories into the next general election.

Response to the result was sharply divided, as her allies and enemies rushed to claim victory.

“She ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading critic of the prime minister.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay congratulated May on a “clear and decisive victory”. She also received vocal support from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who had both been touted as contenders to replace her if the vote had gone the other way.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government is in “chaos” and challenged May to “bring her botched deal back to Parliament next week.”

“A significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me,” May acknowledged outside Downing Street last night. Still, she strived for unity, promising to deliver a Brexit that “brings the country together rather than entrenching division. That must start here in Westminster.”

But with a majority of MPs in Parliament opposed to her deal, and some EU leaders insisting there is “no room whatsoever” to renegotiate, the prime minister is staring down a rocky and uncertain path.

Was this a good night for Theresa May?

On the brink

It was a clear victory, say some. May won with a respectable majority and called the Tory rebels’ bluff. They now cannot challenge her leadership for another 12 months. With that threat removed, she can focus all her attention on delivering Brexit, and go into tomorrow’s EU summit with confidence.

The prime minister has lost the last scraps of authority, respond others. Her party is in open rebellion, and she has the support of only 200 MPs in a Parliament of 650. Her Brexit deal is not getting through. Having pledged to resign before the next election, she can delay the inevitable and limp on for now, but her premiership is effectively over.

You Decide

  1. How long will Theresa May be prime minister for?
  2. Should she have survived the confidence vote?

Activities

  1. Who will take the Tories into the next election? May has promised it won’t be her. Choose three prominent contenders and write a short paragraph on whether they would make a good leader, and why/why not.
  2. Class debate time! “This house believes that Brexit is impossible.”

Some People Say...

“Nothing has changed… May was weak before and is still weak.”

Steve Richards

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Monday, the prime minister announced a key parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal would be delayed. It had been widely predicted that she would lose the vote heavily. The decision caused shock and anger across party lines, and led to more Conservative MPs writing letters of no confidence in her leadership. Yesterday morning, a vote of confidence was announced after 48 MPs officially opposed her leadership. She won the vote by 200 votes to 117.
What do we not know?
It is unclear if the EU will allow any concessions to make her deal more palatable to MPs when May pleads her case at tomorrow’s summit. The main source of discontent is a backstop arrangement to protect Ireland from a hard border, which Brexiteers fear could lock the UK in the single market indefinitely.

Word Watch

Delayed votes
The current crisis developed on Monday, when Theresa May delayed the vote for the House of Commons to approve or reject her Brexit deal amid widespread belief that she would lose heavily. The decision, which led some to accuse her of putting her own political survival ahead of Brexit and the country’s interests turned some more of her own Conservatives MPs against her.
Letters
A confidence vote in the Conservative leader is triggered when 48 or more MPs write to Sir Graham Brady saying they do not have confidence in the leader. If she had lost, Theresa May would have been immediately removed as leader, and there would have been a Tory leadership contest, which she would be barred from.
1922 Committee
A group made up of backbench (not serving as ministers) Conservative MPs.
Critic
Rees-Mogg is chair of the European Research Group, a group of Tory MPs who dislike the European Union and think May’s deal, especially the backstop, will not truly take the UK out of the EU.
No room whatsoever
These were the words of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, on Tuesday.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.