British parliament backs PM May to press on with search for Brexit deal

“This confidence vote has managed to unite the Tories after a bruising day yesterday,” said Henry Newman, director of the Open Europe think tank.

Under Conservative Party rules, Mrs May is immune from internal challenge until December this year, after successfully fending off a leadership spill just before Christmas.

And while Mr Corbyn could in theory keep on proposing further no-confidence votes, pressure is building on him to help resolve parliament’s impasse by choosing a side in the Brexit debate rather than pressing for an election.

So far the Labour leader is resisting: after the no-confidence vote he demanded that Mrs May explicitly rule out a no-deal Brexit as a precondition for discussions with the Labour leadership.

“I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour Party has not so far chosen to take part, but our door remains open,” Mrs May said in her televised statement.

While Mr Corbyn may continue holding out, other Labour figures could join the negotiations, which are being led by Mrs May’s de facto deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington. She said she would seek meetings with “the widest possible range of views from across Parliament”

Mrs May will be looking for any way that her own deal might be revived, testing whether the 118 Conservative rebels and the 10 MPs of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who voted against the deal can be won over with more concessions or assurances from the European Union.

Even before the confidence vote she had already met DUP leader Arlene Foster, who earlier on Wednesday that she had a “useful discussion” with the Prime Minister, and would have “further engagements in the coming days”.

It looks unlikely that Mrs May can resurrect her Brexit plan, given the scale of her defeat, the strength of Tory backbench feeling against the deal, and the seeming unwillingness of the EU to countenance major changes to it.

If Britain is going to avoid a no-deal Brexit, most commentators now see a two-horse race in parliament between proponents of a second referendum and champions of British membership in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which aligns Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein with the EU’s single market.

The leaders of the left-wing minor parties – the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, the Greens and Plaid Cymru – wrote to Mr Corbyn after the no-confidence vote urging him to support a second referendum. Some commentators estimate up to 100 of Labour’s 257 MPs would back a second referendum.

Mrs May will likely hold out against both these options for some time yet. She’s trenchantly opposed to a second referendum; and EFTA membership would mean ditching two of her core commitments: ending unrestricted movement of EU citizens into Britain, and freeing up the British government to negotiate trade deals independently.

Conservative Party

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to his no-confidence motion in Theresa May on Wednesday. Mark DuffyAP

“What I want to see is what the British people voted for,” she told Parliament on Wednesday. “They voted for an end to free movement, they voted for an independent trade policy, they voted to end the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. And it is incumbent on this parliament to ensure that we deliver on that.”

Unless some kind of breakthrough is found urgently, Mrs May could be forced against her will todelay the looming Brexit departure dateof March 29, set by the ‘Article 50’ process of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. The EU has reportedly been considering a deferral until July, while some of her own MPs are canvassing the idea of pushing it back until December.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that he expected the British government to ask for more time. But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told the European Parliament that “the risk of no deal has never been so high”.

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