MPs voted 325 to 306 that they had confidence in May’s government, just 24 hours after handing her European Union withdrawal deal a crushing defeat that left Britain’s exit from the bloc in disarray.
With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.
After the results of the confidence vote were announced to cheers from her Conservative lawmakers, May said she believed parliament had a duty to find a solution that delivered on the 2016 Brexit referendum result.
“Now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what parliament does want,” May said outside her Downing Street office.
“That’s why I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward. This is now the time to put self-interest aside.”
After the confidence vote, May met several party leaders, but the main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to hold talks unless a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.
But the problem May faces is trying to win over pro-EU supporters in her own and other parties without alienating those who keep her in power – for instance, by giving up the “no-deal Brexit” that they see as a crucial bargaining chip.
Hardline Conservative Brexit-supporters, who last month made an unsuccessful attempt to oust her as leader, and the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government will not countenance a deal that keeps close ties with the EU.
However, Corbyn said no positive talks were possible unless a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table. His party wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.
Companies have warned of catastrophic job losses and chaos at ports if there was no deal.
Trade with the EU would then default to basic World Trade Organisation rules, which many argue would disrupt innumerable manufacturing supply chains relying on rapid, friction-free trade.
Tuesday’s crushing defeat appears to have killed off May’s two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce in which a status-quo transition period would be followed by Britain operating an independent trade policy alongside close ties to the EU, the world’s biggest single market.
Other members of the EU, which combined has about six times Britain’s economic might, called for discussion but indicated there was little chance of fundamental change to the deal May had negotiated.
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