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No Brexit easy options at this time to take
for British Prime Minister Theresa May

by Shi Yinglun LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- The continued political survival of British Prime Minister Theresa May after a failed bid to oust her by members of her Conservative Party means that the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with the European Union (EU) remains a possible Brexit endgame.

May early this week survived an attempt to kick her out as party leader, an ouster organized by a substantial Brexiter minority in the Conservative Party who do not like the Withdrawal Agreement she is currently championing and who believe she does not have the will to deliver a Brexit more to their liking.

May won with the support of 200 MPs. But 117 voted to kick her out, not a ringing endorsement and a fact which leaves her further weakened.

Yet at the same time as the confidence vote weakened May despite her winning, it also strengthened her.

The rules of Conservative Party leadership votes mean that May will now not have to face another challenge to her leadership for a year.

This significantly weakens the ability of her Brexit wing to ditch her and to take Britain towards the Brexit they desire, one of no compromises with the EU which fully controls its borders, laws and trading options.

The size of the vote against May’s premiership is a token of the strength of opposition her Withdrawal Agreement will face in the House of Commons when it comes up for debate and a vote, which is scheduled before mid-January.

May is obliged to take it to Parliament for a debate and a vote, and she dodged a likely heavy defeat over the Withdrawal Agreement by pulling the debate scheduled for earlier this month.

May looks unlikely to carry her Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, at least at the first attempt, though if she is defeated over it she has the option to bring it back for a vote.

Yet in a paradox, if May is defeated at the first attempt, it makes her Withdrawal Agreement more likely at the second attempt since she cannot now face a leadership challenge for a whole year and there is certainly a majority in the Commons for avoiding a No Deal Brexit.

But she faces significant hurdles to get her agreement passed.

May cut a deal with the Northern Ireland party the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 MPs now support her minority government. The DUP is a strong unionist party, and does not want to see Northern Ireland move closer to Ireland.

Feargal Cochrane, professor of international conflict analysis at the University of Kent, said:

"If the Withdrawal Agreement comes back to the House of Commons, the DUP will not vote for it, regardless of anything."

"Because their fundamental position is that Northern Ireland should not be treated differently from anywhere else in the United Kingdom," Cochrane explained.

In addition to the significant hurdle of lack of support for the Withdrawal Agreement, May could face another vote of confidence—this time in the House of Commons.

All the main opposition parties could be expected to back this, but a vote of no confidence would need the support of some Conservative MPs to succeed, and they are unlikely to want to put the Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.

"The outcome of a vote of no confidence is not necessarily a general election.

"There are 14 days breathing space during which time another government could be formed," Meg Russell, politics professor at University College London (UCL) told Xinhua.

"It could be a government of national unity," said Russell, centered on the Conservative Party and with representation from other parties.

A government of national unity is not unprecedented, and it most famously happened early in the Second World War, when Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940 to replace Neville Chamberlain.

"The prime minister of such a government does not need to be a leader of any of the main parties," Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) said.

"You need to remember that Churchill became prime minister when Chamberlain stepped down but continued to be leader of the Conservative Party."

There remains the possibility that Brexit will be abandoned.

This is a bet at long odds, because it would need another referendum and though there is a mounting campaign pressing for this, none of the main political parties are in favor.

"Support for a second referendum seems to be growing as a way out of the deadlock," said Russell.

"This would take five months, and would need parliamentary legislation."

It seems unlikely that the other party in the Brexit talks, the EU, will grant any more significant concessions to the Withdrawal Agreement they have already backed.

May is still championing that agreement, but it remains an unlikely possibility that she could put her weight behind a less significant Brexit—one which would see Britain leave the EU but retain significant amounts of rules and without the level of sovereignty Brexiters want.

There could be a No Deal Brexit, whereby Britain leaves the EU with no agreement.

This could happen on March 29 when the Article 50 exit process expires, which would be hugely disruptive in the short term.

Or it could happen towards the end of 2020 or even later, if Britain asked for an extension of the Article 50 period.

This would make hardline Brexiters happy, but there is no majority for this outcome in the House of Commons and it could be expected to back anything rather than see a No Deal Brexit.

It could further strengthen May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

             

 

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