PM goes to Brussels seeking legal & political assurances to “assuage concerns” of MPs over
British Prime Minister Theresa May headed to Brussels on Thursday to attend an EU council meeting after Conservative MPs backed her by a majority of 83 in a secret ballot on Wednesday night. ‘Hard’ Brexiteers triggered a no-confidence vote in her leadership but MPs voted 200 to 117 in favour of the Prime Minister, which will mean she cannot be challenged in another party no-confidence vote for the next year. Ms. May has promised to use the Brussels meeting to garner legal and political assurances to “assuage concerns” of her parliamentary colleagues, though whether what she gains will be enough to satisfy her critics remains to be seen. European politicians have made it plain that no further changes to the legal text are possible, just statements of clarification. These fall short of the demands of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which wants changes put into the core legal texts. The no-confidence win was far from a clear-cut victory for the Prime Minister. In a meeting earlier in the evening in an attempt to persuade more MPs to support her, she told colleagues she would not lead the party into the next general election, meaning the battle to become her successor will be well under way. The large number of MPs who voted against her also provides an indication of the challenge ahead of her, both when it comes to getting her controversial withdrawal deal through the House of Commons and further Brexit legislation beyond that. Her opponents noted after the result that while she had won the majority, if one considered MPs who were not part of the government and simply backbenchers, the majority had voted against her. Ms. May is facing criticism from the right and left of her party, who are united in their belief that the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement agreed with the EU aren’t in the nation’s best interests. Hard Brexiteers want her to renegotiate the backstop — or insurance — policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which would (under the current deal) involve Northern Ireland entering the EU customs union with no unilateral exit option for the U.K. if the backstop kicks in. Others want her to call a second referendum. With Opposition parties also uniting in their opposition to the deal, the level of rebellion within the Conservative Party indicates the obstacles Ms. May could continue to face.