Saturday, 7 Dec 2019

Conservative lawmakers trigger no-confidence vote over Brexit, PM Theresa May says she'll fight challenge

LONDON (REUTERS) – Lawmakers in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party on Wednesday (Dec 12) triggered a confidence vote in her leadership after Britain’s planned divorce from the European Union was plunged into chaos. 

Speaking in Downing Street, Mrs May said she intends to fight the challenge “with everything I’ve got”. The result of the confidence vote will released as soon as possible after the vote this evening.

Mrs May said she has been a member of the party for 40 years and served in various posts, including as PM, because she wants a better future for the country. 

Asserting that her priority now is delivering Brexit, she said that she has a passionate belief that a better future is now within the country’s grasp. 

Mrs May said that having a new leader at this juncture would put “our country’s future at risk”.

“A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the Jan 21 legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in Parliament,” Mrs May said.

“A new leader wouldn’t have time to re-negotiate a withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through Parliament by March 29, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it,” she said.

The British Prime Minister said the only people who would benefit would be opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell. 

Referring to the agenda she outlined in a “burning injustices” speech that she made when she became PM, Mrs May said she intends to finish the job. 

She cancelled a meeting of her Cabinet of senior ministers which had been scheduled for later on Wednesday, her office said in a statement.

With less than four months left until the United Kingdom is due to exit on March 29, the world’s fifth-largest economy was tipping towards crisis, opening up the prospect of a disorderly no deal divorce or a reversal of Brexit through a referendum. 

Mr Graham Brady, the chairman of the party’s so-called 1922 committee, said the threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary Conservative Party seeking a confidence vote had been reached. 

“The threshold of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded,” Mr Brady said, adding that he had told Mrs May of that development on Tuesday night by telephone. 

The ballot will be held between 6pm and 8pm on Wednesday in a room at the House of Commons and an announcement made as soon as possible afterwards, he said. 

“The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made a soon as possible in the evening,” Mr Brady said.

Mr Brady said that if Mrs May lost the confidence vote and there was a leadership contest, Conservative MPs could whittle down the contenders to a shortlist of two within 10 days. 

However, it would be for the party’s board to decide how long the ballot of members would take to decide between the final two under Tory party rules. 

Among the names doing the rounds as a potential successor to Mrs May are former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, besides former Brexit negotiators Dominic Raab and Mr David Davis. 

Mrs May could be toppled if 158 of her 315 lawmakers vote against her, though a big mutiny could also scupper her leadership. 

Brexit is Britain’s most significant political and economic decision since World War Two. 

The ultimate outcome will shape Britain’s US$2.8 trillion (S$3.85 trillion) economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres. 

The British pound, which has lost 25 cents against the US dollar since the 2016 referendum, fell to $1.2478. 


Ever since formally triggering the Brexit divorce in March 2017, Mrs May has sought to find a way to keep Britain closely aligned with the EU after its exit. 

But on Monday, she abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her deal in the face of ridicule from lawmakers. 

She then rushed to Europe in an attempt to get assurances from EU leaders about the deal. 

Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused Mrs May of betraying Brexit in negotiations while opponents of Brexit say she has negotiated a deal that is the worst of all worlds – out of the EU but with no say over the rules it has to abide by. 

A schism over Europe in the Conservative Party over Britain’s relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three previous Conservative premiers – Mr David Cameron, Mr John Major and Mrs Margaret Thatcher. 

Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her party have accused Mrs May of selling out Brexit in negotiations. 

“Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward,” lawmakers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Mr Steve Baker said in a statement. 

“But our Party will rightly not tolerate it. Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.” 

But some ministers expressed support for her, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying a leadership contest was the last thing Britain needed. 

“The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative Party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong,” Mr Javid said. 

“PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March,” he said.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Education Secretary Damian Hinds also voiced support for May on Twitter, while Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “I will be backing Theresa May tonight.”

The chairman of the Labour Party said on Wednesday the weakness of Mrs May “has completely immobilised the government at this critical time for the country”. 

“The Prime Minister’s half-baked Brexit deal does not have the backing of her Cabinet, her party, Parliament or the country,” Mr Ian Lavery said in a statement.

“The Conservative Party’s internal divisions are putting people’s jobs and living standards at risk.”

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