Thursday 17 January 2019

Embattled Theresa May vows to deliver on Brexit after surviving leadership challenge

  • Mrs May insists she will get 'legal and political assurances' on border backstop from EU leaders
  • Conservative MPs voted by 200 to 117 in Westminster secret ballot to keep Mrs May as leader
  • PM tells Conservative MPs she will not lead the party into the next general election
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street in central London after winning a confidence vote on December 12, 2018. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street in central London after winning a confidence vote on December 12, 2018. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, London. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to get "legal and political assurances" on the backstop from EU leaders after she survived a challenge to her leadership of the Conservative party.

Conservative MPs voted by 200 to 117 in the secret ballot in Westminster to keep Mrs May as party leader.

Failure in the ballot would have triggered a leadership contest in which Mrs May could not stand. But because she has won, another challenge cannot be mounted against her position as Conservative leader for a year.

It is a boost for the embattled politician as she attempts to push a hugely-controversial Brexit withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in 10 Downing Street, London, after she survived an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her with a vote of no confidence. Photo credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in 10 Downing Street, London, after she survived an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her with a vote of no confidence. Photo credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Mrs May told Conservative MPs she will not lead the party into the next general election, but said she wants to stay on to deliver her Brexit deal.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street following the vote, Mrs May insisted she would listen to MPs concerns over the backstop, an issue which has caused huge division among her party.

She told reporters that she would be seeking "legal and political assurances" from EU leaders on the backstop arrangement over the border.

She said: "For my part, I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop and when I go to the European Council tomorrow I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members of Parliament have on that issue."

Sir Graham Brady (centre), chairman of the 1922 Committee, announces that Theresa May has survived an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her as party leader. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Sir Graham Brady (centre), chairman of the 1922 Committee, announces that Theresa May has survived an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her as party leader. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Mrs May accepted that a “significant” number of Tory MPs had voted against her but said she now wanted to “get on with the job”.

"Following this ballot, we now have to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country," she added.

Nigel Dodds, Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, tweeted: "The message from tonight is very clear. The Backstop must go."

Dodds said he held a "good meeting" with May before the confidence vote in the Conservative Party's 1922 Committee.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks to the media next to Parliament. NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks to the media next to Parliament. NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

"She understands what, I think, our concerns are about the legally binding nature of the indefinite arrangements that we would be tied into and the difficulties that would pose for Northern Ireland," he said.

"Whether or not she delivers anything that changes that remains to be seen," Dodds said.

"We will wait and see. The noises coming out of Europe from some of the member state governments don't sound too promising but on the other hand she has made commitments tonight to the 1922 Committee and to us, so we will wait and see."

Following the vote, prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group, said the result was "terrible" for Theresa May and she should resign.

Mr Rees-Mogg told the BBC: "It's a terrible result for the Prime Minister, it really is."

With the "payroll vote" of ministers, parliamentary aides and trade envoys all likely to have backed Mrs May, a majority of the remaining 160-170 backbenchers voted no confidence in her, he said.

"Of course I accept this result, but the Prime Minister must realise that under all constitutional norms, she ought to go to see the Queen urgently and resign.

Dramatic scenes: Prime Minister Theresa May makes her statement in the Commons delaying the Brexit vote. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Dramatic scenes: Prime Minister Theresa May makes her statement in the Commons delaying the Brexit vote. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

"Constitutionally if a Prime Minister can't get her business through the House of Commons - and on Monday the Prime Minister got up and said she was going to lose so heavily she wasn't even going to call the vote - and then discovers that the overwhelming majority of her backbenchers have voted against her, she clearly doesn't have the confidence of the House of Commons and she should make way for someone who does."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May will now have to bring her "dismal" Brexit deal back to the House of Commons.

"Tonight's vote makes no difference to the lives of our people," Corbyn said in a statement.

"She must now bring her dismal deal back to the House of Commons next week so Parliament can take back control." next week so Parliament can take back control."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "We now have a lame-duck Prime Minister and are saddled with a lame-duck Brexit deal."

The reaction was different among European leaders though as Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz welcomed the result.

He said: "Glad about the outcome of tonight's vote in the UK. Looking forward to seeing Theresa May tomorrow.

"Our shared goal is to avoid a no-deal scenario."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker insisted tonight that the withdrawal agreement "cannot be reopened or contradicted".

The pair spoke by telephone on Wednesday evening and a Government spokesman said "both agreed that the withdrawal agreement is a balanced compromise and the best outcome available".

"While they agreed to work to provide reassurance to the UK, the agreement cannot be reopened or contradicted," the spokesman said.

Earlier, Mrs May received an enthusiastic welcome as she addressed Conservative MPs at the backbench 1922 Committee moments before the crucial vote began at 6pm, with backers banging their desks to show their support.

Afterwards, solicitor general Robert Buckland told reporters: "She said 'In my heart I would like to lead the party into the next election' and then that was the introductory phrase to her indication that she would accept the fact that that would not happen, that is not her intention."

And British Cabinet minister Amber Rudd said: "She was very clear that she won't be taking the general election in 2022."

Other MPs indicated that Mrs May had promised to find a "legally binding solution" to ensuring that the UK does not get permanently trapped in a backstop arrangement to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

Anger over the backstop among Conservative backbenchers and their Democratic Unionist Party allies was the main obstacle to Mrs May getting her Brexit deal through the House of Commons earlier this week.

Her decision to defer the vote sparked a new wave of letters of no confidence which pushed the total beyond the threshold of 48 needed to trigger a ballot.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met Mrs May shortly before the vote, insisted that "tinkering around the edges" of the Prime Minister's EU Withdrawal Agreement would not be enough to win her party's support for the deal.

Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up the minority Conservative administration, said she told the PM that "we were not seeking assurances or promises, we wanted fundamental legal text changes".

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section