Brexit: Theresa May to join EU summit after surviving vote
[December 13 2018]
Theresa May is
heading to Brussels for an EU
summit, the morning after
surviving a vote of confidence.
The prime minister is seeking legally binding pledges
from EU leaders on the "backstop" - the plan to avoid a return to a
manned Northern Ireland border.
Critics say the plan will keep the UK tied to EU rules
indefinitely and curb its ability to strike trade deals.
The EU says it will not renegotiate the backstop but
may agree to greater assurances on its temporary nature.
It seems unlikely that would win over enough support
for her Brexit plan to have a realistic chance of getting through the
House of Commons, with tensions heightened in the Conservative Party in
the wake of Wednesday evening's vote.
Theresa May did win the ballot of Conservative MPs, on
whether she should remain their party leader, by 200 votes to 117. But
in a last-minute pre-vote move, she offered a promise to her MPs that
she would step down before the next election.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said that sort
of move tends to lead to power "draining away", adding that the party's
"rival tribes might be now set on a course to pull her - and themselves
- apart" with the expectation that at "some point she will have to
change tack on Brexit".
Speaking in Downing Street after the vote, Mrs May
vowed to deliver the Brexit "people voted for" but said she had heard
the concerns of MPs who voted against her.
But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said,
despite the "high drama" of Wednesday, "nothing has really changed".
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said it was now
up to Mrs May to listen to her party and "push the EU... to resolve the
What will happen at the EU summit?
Earlier this week, the prime minister travelled to
meet EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, to raise the issues surrounding the
withdrawal agreement at Westminster one-on-one.
But a trip to meet the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
had to be cancelled because of the leadership vote.
At Thursday's summit, Mrs May will have an opportunity
to spell out face-to-face the problems to leaders of all the other 27
The EU leaders will then consider what could be done -
without Mrs May in the room.
Brutal reality of no workable Brexit'
Theresa May will front up in Brussels later - still
the prime minister, still officially in charge.
One cabinet minister last night told me the whole
challenge to her had been "futile", suggesting it hadn't really changed
But it really has. Theresa May has a temporary shield
from another direct call for her departure from her own MPs . Angry
Brexiteers can't try to move her out for another year in the same way.
That on its own is a sigh of relief certainly for her
supporters, claiming a "good result" last night.
But that does not remotely protect her from the brutal
reality that she, right now, has no workable Brexit policy that can make
it through the Commons.
The BBC understands that any reassurances offered to
Mrs May could centre on an attempt to "detoxify" the idea of the
backstop for Westminster, says the BBC's Europe correspondent Kevin
He said its temporary nature could be emphasised,
along with the EU's readiness to keep searching for a better alternative
even if the backstop were ever to be triggered - both stronger
reassurances to the policy's critics than offered in the past.
For example, a draft of the European Council
conclusions on Brexit says the EU would use its "best endeavours to
negotiate and conclude expeditiously 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".
In other words, the EU would continue trying to
negotiate a trade deal with the UK even if the Irish backstop had been
triggered at the end of the transition period. The Brexit withdrawal
agreement only talks about "best endeavours" being used to reach an
agreement during the transition period.
But the BBC's Brussels reporter Adam Fleming says the
draft put forward by the European Council could be subject to change.
met with Germany's Angela Merkel earlier this week to
discuss issues with the deal
Westminster critics of Mrs May's Brexit deal might
also complain that it is not legally binding.
However, the core message from Brussels remains that
there will not be a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement whatever
happens, even if the Conservative Party had changed its leader.
This was reiterated by the President of the European
Commission Jean Claude Juncker who, in a phone call with Mr Varadkar on
Wednesday, said that the deal on the table was "a balanced compromise
and the best outcome available", and "cannot be reopened or
What is being said in Westminster?
Mr Duncan Smith, a Brexiteer who voted against Mrs May
in Wednesday's vote, said he wanted to "send a strong message" to the
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We cannot go
on just with the idea that a fiddle here and a fiddle there is what the
Instead, he said Mrs May should say that the œ39bn the
UK has agreed to pay the EU as part of the divorce deal is "at risk".
"They have got to say to the EU... we are not
committed to this œ39bn unless we get some resolution".
Sir Vince Cable, who is against Brexit happening, told
BBC Breakfast: "We are still back with the problem that the government
has a proposal that we can't get through Parliament and we have got to
try and break that gridlock."
He called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to "come off
the fence" and back another public vote on Brexit.
Mr Corbyn last night agreed that nothing had changed
and that the government was in "chaos".
Labour has said that it will table a no-confidence
motion in Theresa May's government that all MPs - not just Conservatives
- will be able to vote in when they felt they had a chance of winning
it, and forcing a general election.
But the DUP - which props up Mrs May's government -
said it would not support such a motion at this stage.
What happened at the confidence vote?
The prime minister won the confidence vote with a
majority of 83 - 63% of Conservative MPs backing her and 37% voting
Her supporters urged the party to move on but critics
said losing the support of a third of MPs was "devastating".
The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said the level of
opposition was "not at all comfortable" for the prime minister and a
"real blow" to her authority.
A split was still clear in the Tory party after the
result. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who led calls for the confidence vote, said
losing the support of a third of her MPs was a "terrible result for the
prime minister" and he urged her to resign.
But Nicholas Soames urged Brexiteers to "throw their
weight" behind the PM as she sought to address the "grave concerns" many
MPs had about aspects of the EU deal.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party was also
still concerned about the Irish backstop plan, telling BBC News: "I
don't think this vote really changes anything very much in terms of the
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