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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.