Teflon Theresa May calls on fractious MPs, and Labour, to ‘come together’ and let her ‘get on with the job’ as she heads to Brussels TODAY to plead for better Brexit deal after defeating coup attempt
- Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence staged by Conservative MPs by a margin of 200 to 117
- She will be in Brussels today and is expected to tell EU leaders she needs ‘legally-binding’ assurances
- Sources in Brussels insisted there were no plans to offer such a solution and suggested no offer can be made
- Despite months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents almost two thirds of Tory MPs backed her
- Cabinet ministers have rallied behind her warning ‘chaos’ will ensue if the party kicks her out at this point
- Tory Brexiteers and Labour branded the outcome ‘shocking’ and a ‘disaster’ but ministers praised her stamina
Theresa May will head to Brussels today in a bid to battle for an improved Brexit deal having seen off a dramatic coup attempt from her own Eurosceptic rebel MPs.
The Prime Minister will restart negotiations with European leaders after winning the intense 15-hour fight to keep her own job, with a vote of no-confidence announced early yesterday and concluded by 9pm.
Standing on Downing Street last night, Mrs May pleaded to be allowed to ‘get on with the job’ of delivering Brexit – by rivals both within and outside of her party.
But her hopes of harmony may be short-lived. Jeremy Corbyn insisted her ‘dismal’ be deal be put to Parliament next week, while Labour MPs branded her a ‘lame duck’ after she vowed she would not lead the Tories into the next general election.
On her backbenches, defeated rebels licked their wounds and threatened to continue to cause trouble. Jacob Rees-Mogg said the fact a third of her MPs hadn’t backed her meant ‘under all constitutional norms she ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign’.
And in Brussels, sources yesterday insisted there were no plans to offer her the ‘legally binding’ solution to the backstop issue that she is believed to be seeking, and suggested no such offer can be made.
Instead, the EU is only likely to offer ‘clarifications’ that the EU does not want to use the backstop and it should be a last resort. However, it may also include a pledge to consider ways of giving further assurances that, while not binding, carry more legal weight.
In an astonishing day of political drama, Conservative MPs voted by 200 to 117 for her to stay on as Tory leader and Prime Minister. Despite months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two thirds of Tory MPs backed her.
Cabinet ministers immediately demanded that her opponents give her the breathing space and support to secure an ‘orderly exit’ from the EU. But Mrs May’s victory, which means she cannot be challenged again for at least 12 months, came at a price. She was forced to promise she will quit before the next general election, scheduled for 2022.
Theresa May put a brave face on her situation as she reacted to the outcome of the Tory no-confidence ballot
There were cheers as 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady announced the result in the Commons on Wednesday night
Eurosceptics and Labour said the numbers were ‘shocking’ and a ‘disaster’, while Cabinet ministers queued up to talk up the positives. Jeremy Hunt yesterday said her ‘stamina, resilience and decency’ had ‘again won the day’, while Treasury minister Liz Truss said it was ‘convincing’.
And the scale of yesterday’s revolt – more than a third of her MPs want her gone – will raise questions about how long she can stay in charge.
Draft conclusions to be considered by EU leaders, seen by the Mail, say: ‘The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided.’
However, it adds: ‘Such assurance will not change or contradict the Withdrawal Agreement.’
One paragraph in the draft summit conclusions that could help Mrs May says the backstop were to be triggered ‘it would apply only temporarily unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement’. The text adds: ‘In such a case, the union would use its best endeavours to negotiate a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, so that it would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.’
Mrs May is seeking assurances that Britain could never become ‘trapped’ indefinitely in the customs backstop, which will come into effect if no trade deal is struck to avoid a border emerging between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Some MPs fear the agreement could lead to Britain being tied to the bloc’s customs regime indefinitely – opposition that led to Mrs May shelving a scheduled Commons vote on the deal.
EU sources appeared to rule out the idea of any further assurances being legally binding. One senior diplomat said yesterday: ‘The Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration are set. We don’t think a legal instrument is possible here.’
Another senior official added: ‘What is not feasible is renegotiations of the Withdrawal Agreement of the deal which was reached. This is not on the table and whatever reassurance will be given they cannot contradict the deal which was agreed on November 25. I don’t know what’s possible, but what I know is impossible is to renegotiate the deal – that’s impossible.’
Another senior EU source suggested a solution could be to beef-up language in the political declaration on the future relationship – the part of the deal that is not legally binding.
Liz Truss (pictured above) said Theresa May’s win was ‘convincing’ after the Prime Minister vowed to fight
EU Council chief Donald Tusk wrote to EU leaders yesterday pledging to listen to Mrs May before making any ‘conclusions’.
Mrs May welcomed the result on Tuesday night while acknowledging that ‘a significant number of colleagues did cast their votes against me’.
She said she would now pursue a ‘renewed mission – delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together, and building a country that truly works for everyone’. She said the situation called for ‘politicians on all sides coming together and acting in the national interest’ – an apparent plea for help from Labour.
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Theresa May is said to have left some politicians in tears as she told the gathering in a Commons committee room (pictured) that she would bow out gracefully once that task is complete
Speaking in Downing Street afterwards, a clearly shaken Mrs May admitted that she needed to get an improved deal from the EU with ‘legally binding’ assurances on the Irish border backstop.
‘I am pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues in tonight’s ballot,’ she said yesterday evening.
‘Whilst I’m grateful for that support, significant number of colleagues did cast their vote against me and I have listened to what they have said.
‘We now need to get on with the job of delivering for the British people and building a better future for this country.’
Some observers posted photographs of the corridor outside the dramatic Tory 1922 committee meeting last night
Mrs May added: ‘That must start here in Westminster with politicians on all sides coming together to act in the national interest.
‘I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop. I go to the European Council tomorrow and I will be seeking legal and political guarantees that will assuage those concerns.’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the result as a ‘strong vote of support’ for the PM.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: ‘This was a very comfortable victory for Theresa May. Removing her would have been self-indulgent and irresponsible. I’m glad that a large majority agreed.’
Some MPs tweeted images of the ballot papers as the no confidence vote took place at Westminster tonight
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the hardline European Research Group which forced the vote, said the PM had suffered a ‘terrible result’ in which the ‘overwhelming majority of her backbenchers have voted against her’.
‘Of course I accept this result, but Theresa May must realise that under all constitutional norms she ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign,’ he said.
Mrs May appealed to Tory MPs not to sack her at an emotionally-charged Commons meeting just minutes before the ballot opened last night.
She pledged she would not call a snap election, and said the party’s greatest duty was to prevent Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street.
Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News he still believed ‘someone else’ should try to secure a good Brexit
One source at the meeting said she told MPs: ‘In my heart I would have loved to have led us into the next election, but I realise that we will need a new leader with new objectives for the 2022 election.’
Some ministers were said to be close to tears as the PM acknowledged that some in her own party want her gone rather than risk a repeat of last year’s disastrous election campaign.
On a day of high political drama:
- Mrs May said she would demand fresh ‘legal and political’ assurances on the Irish backstop when she travels to a Brussels summit on Brexit today;
- A Cabinet source said Mrs May was planning a snap reshuffle to stamp her authority on the Government;
- Tory whips sparked anger by reinstating suspended MPs Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke so that they could vote;
- Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who was ousted in a similar confidence vote in 2003, revealed he had voted against the Prime Minister;
- Liam Fox said Mrs May’s Brexit agreement could be abandoned unless the EU offers concessions;
- Chancellor Philip Hammond said the vote would ‘flush out the extremists’ on the party’s Eurosceptic wing;
- Business leaders voiced dismay at the decision to stage a leadership contest at the height of the Brexit negotiations;
- European Research Group members vowed to continue a campaign of ‘guerilla warfare’ against the Government.
The vote came after Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady announced that at least 48 MPs had written letters of no confidence in Mrs May, sparking a vote under the party’s leadership rules.
After the announcement yesterday morning, Mrs May pledged to fight the coup attempt with ‘everything I’ve got’.
She ducked questions about the exact date of her departure.
But the concession that she will not fight the next election will weaken her authority and spark a race to succeed. Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Amber Rudd will jostle for position against Eurosceptic former Cabinet colleagues Boris Johnson, David Davis and Dominic Raab.
Crispin Blunt, who wrote a letter of no confidence in Mrs May, urged rebels to back her, but said he still considered her Brexit plan a ‘bad deal’. He said: ‘The leadership question is now behind us for a year and we must get behind Theresa May in delivering Brexit.’
Nadine Dorries, another critic of the PM, said: ‘It’s not the way I voted, however, I will fully respect the result.’
Allies had previously insisted that Mrs May would fight on even if she only won by a single vote.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove had urged Tory MPs not to trigger the no confidence vote in the Prime Minister
Ministers were eager to move on from the bitter struggle, even though many are known to harbour misgivings about Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt posted on Twitter: ‘Prime Minister wins confidence motion with 63% of the vote. Now let’s crack on with getting the changes we need to the deal on offer and press on with no deal preparations. We are leaving the EU in 15 weeks.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News last night that he still believed ‘someone else’ should try to secure a good Brexit.
‘It’s a very bad result for the Prime Minister, 163 Tory MPs are on the payroll…and therefore of the backbenchers the Prime Minster lost very heavily…Clearly the Prime Minister has lost the support of the backbenches of the Conservative Party, and that is not a good position for her to be in,’ he said.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom (pictured) also spoke out for Mrs May despite concerns about the progress in negotiations with the EU
‘Having failed in her main plank of policy, it would be constitutional normal for her to retire from the fray.’
He added: ‘Someone else ought to try to deliver Brexit.’
Other Brexiteers were keen to make clear they accepted the result even if they did not like it. Steve Double said: ‘The PM has won the confidence vote 200-117. We are a democratic party and I accept the result. However the margin should send a clear message to the leadership that over 1/3 of MPs have serious concerns and need to be addressed.’
Crispin Blunt said: ‘The leadership question is now behind us for a year and we must get behind Theresa May in delivering Brexit.
‘The realities remain. Her proposed withdrawal deal is a bad deal. She was clear today we leave on 29 March 2019. Nothing to fear but fear itself! Get it done!’
The ballot boxes used in the confidence vote tonight (pictured left). David Davis (right) hinted he might vote against Mrs May
The contest was held after hardliners finally secured the 48 letters from MPs needed to trigger the process.
More than 180 MPs had publicly declared that they would back her, indicating that she was on course to survive.
However, as it was a secret ballot there was no way of telling if they were being truthful. One senior MP privately admitted their colleagues are the ‘most duplicitous electorate in the history of humankind’.
As MPs sweltered in the stifling heat of committee room 14 last nigth, Mrs May was said to have told them in her ‘heart’ she would like to carry on but she recognised that was not the ‘will’ of the party.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins was one of those nearly overcome by the emotion of the moment. Asked for her reaction as she emerged from the room, she welled up and clutched her chest.
Chancellor Philip Hammond launched a furious assault on Brexit ‘extremists’ trying to undermine the government
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke said that some Tory MPs had tears in their eyes when the PM told the room she would not lead the party into the next election.
He said : ‘She basically said it is not her intention to lead the party into the 2022 election.
‘I think she’s at a stage where she is 100 per cent committed to delivering Brexit. That’s where her focus is.
‘And her opening remarks were: ‘I am not going to call a snap election. There is an impasse and we will get through it but I’m not going to call a snap election.’
Asked what the feeling was like in the room when she said she would not lead the party into the 2022 election, he said: ‘Shock. There were a couple of tears in some colleagues’ eyes.’
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who had hinted he was voting against the PM last night, left the committee room before the end of Mrs May’s appearance.
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