May beats no-confidence vote and opens cross-party talks on Brexit
LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May survived an attempt to oust her government and immediately opened talks with rival political parties in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock, as time runs out to reach a deal.
May fought off the threat of a national election and won the right to continue running the country when the House of Commons voted 325-306 against a motion of “no confidence” in her administration. The pound edged higher.
She invited other party leaders, who back keeping much closer ties to the European Union, for talks Wednesday night to discuss how to forge a compromise Brexit plan that Parliament can support.
“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit, and I urge others to do the same,” May told lawmakers. “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House.”
But Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said May must rule out a no-deal Brexit as a precondition for those discussions. After a spokesman for the prime minister later told reporters she was not doing so, Corbyn’s camp said no deal was being used as “blackmail.” The Labour leader doesn’t plan to meet May on Wednesday night.
A spokesman for Corbyn also said Labour would not rule out further no-confidence votes.
The slim margin of May’s victory was not a surprise as she has no overall majority in the Commons and relies on support from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her government.
While the result brings short-term respite for May, the U.K. remains locked in a political crisis over its divorce from the European Union, with no deal in sight and just 10 weeks until the country is due to exit the bloc.
In a parliamentary vote Tuesday, May’s blueprint for exiting the EU was resoundingly rejected by 230 votes — the worst parliamentary defeat for a government in modern British history. While pro-Brexit hard-liners backed her in the confidence vote, they will be quick to denounce any attempts she makes to find a compromise that maintains close ties to the bloc. The support of her Northern Irish allies is also conditional on a radical overhaul of her deal.
If Parliament fails to approve a Brexit deal, the U.K. will fall out of the EU on March 29 without any new agreement in place. British authorities warn that this could trigger a recession, with the pound falling as much as 25 percent and house prices taking as much as a 30 percent hit.
British and EU officials are increasingly convinced the U.K. will need to delay Brexit day, though May has so far refused publicly to consider that option.
“We are living through a historic moment in our nation’s history,” May said as she asked the Commons to back her government Wednesday. “Following a referendum that divided our nation in half, we dearly need to bring our country back together.”
Corbyn proposed the no-confidence vote after May’s Brexit deal suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat for at least 100 years. He said she’s now running a “zombie government.”