Friday 18 October 2019

May sees off attempt by rebel Tories to oust her as party leader

Challenge: MPs applaud as Graham Brady (centre) announces that Theresa May survived an attempt to oust her. Photo: PA
Challenge: MPs applaud as Graham Brady (centre) announces that Theresa May survived an attempt to oust her. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Theresa May promised Conservative party MPs to secure more than just "a few warm words" on the Irish backstop as she pleaded for her job.

The British prime minister has survived to fight another day after telling her party that she would find a "legally binding solution" to ensure that the UK does not get permanently trapped in a backstop arrangement to keep the Irish Border open after Brexit.

But she sowed the seeds for her eventual departure by telling Tory MPs that she would not lead the party into the next general election, scheduled in 2022. Mrs May won a confidence vote of the 317 Conservative MPs by a margin of 200 to 117 in a secret ballot at Westminster.

The Irish government gave no response to the vote last night but were understood to privately pleased that she survived. Sources indicated that that they still see Mrs May as the most likely person to deliver some sort of Brexit deal which acknowledges the special situation in Northern Ireland. Her commitment to finding a legal way of ensuring the UK is not left in the backstop indefinitely has not caused alarm.

Sources noted that the Withdrawal Agreement was only ever designed to map the UK's route of the EU.

They said a comprehensive future trade agreement is what Ireland wants as a solution to the border question.

Mr Varadkar discussed the situation with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker by phone last night.

In a statement afterwards they reiterated the EU position that the deal on the table is a "balanced compromise" and "the best outcome available".

They also "agreed to work to provide reassurance to the UK" in a bid to help see the deal ratified in Westminster but ruled out re-opening the negotiations.

Mr May cancelled her planned trip to Dublin yesterday in order to fight back against the leadership heave. Instead she is likely to have talks with Mr Varadkar on the fringes of an EU Council meeting in Brussels today.

After the result of the confidence vote was announced, Mrs May said she would get on with her "renewed mission" of taking Britain out of the EU. "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 said.

Mrs May said she would seek legal and political assurances from EU leaders on the backstop arrangement over the border.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met Mrs May shortly before the ballot, insisted that "tinkering around the edges" of the 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".

Anger over the backstop among Tory backbenchers and their DUP allies was the main obstacle to Mrs May getting her Brexit deal through the 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. But she still faces the danger of a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons, which could bring her Government down if backed by more than half of all MPs.

Irish Independent

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