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Theresa May survives no confidence vote, will remain UK PM

UK PM sees off no-confidence vote after it was triggered by hardline Brexit supporters who despise the deal she struck with the EU last month.

Wednesday 12 December, 2018
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London as she waits for the result of a confidence vote by her Conservative Party on December 12, 2018.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London as she waits for the result of a confidence vote by her Conservative Party on December 12, 2018. Foto:Oli SCARFF / AFP

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Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday survived a bid by her own Conservative Party colleagues to unseat her, securing the support of 200 MPs while 117 voted against her.

The British leader overcame the party no-confidence vote after it was triggered by hardline Brexit supporters who despise the deal she struck with the EU last month.

It leaves May weakened but immune from a further internal challenge for at least a year. However, the debate over Brexit shows no sign of stopping.

Speaking before the vote, May told her MPs she expects to step down before the next scheduled election in 2022. May offered the concession to members of her Conservative party ahead of the vote.

"It is not her intention to lead the party in the 2022 general election," Solicitor General Robert Buckland told the BBC after the meeting. "Quite rightly she is focusing on the here and now and the need for Brexit to be delivered."

MPs and ministers rallied round May after the confidence vote was announced on Wednesday morning, sending the pound rising amid expectations she would win.

In a defiant statement earlier outside her Downing Street office beforehand, the prime minister said she was "ready to finish the job" by taking Britain out of the European Union next March. She warned that ousting her now, sparking a weeks-long leadership contest, would "create uncertainty when we can least afford it".

May also warned that finding a successor – who would automatically become prime minister – "would mean either delaying or stopping Brexit".

Victory makes the prime minister immune from a further Conservative challenge for a year under parliamentary rules, but does not resolve her central problem – how to get divided MPs to agree to her Brexit deal.

She was forced to postpone this week's vote in the House of Commons on the text after admitting she faced a huge defeat, as her own MPs joined with opposition parties to reject it.

Brexit supporters had for months threatened to submit the 48 letters from MPs needed to trigger a confidence vote in May, seeking a leader who would make a cleaner break with the EU.

The last batch came in after May delayed Tuesday's vote on the Brexit deal, a move that sparked outrage among MPs of all the political parties.

But ministers, including those tipped to succeed May, were quick to condemn the rebels.

"The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative party leadership election," Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in a tweet.

Finance minister Philip Hammond said May's victory would unite the party and "flush out the extremists".

May was informed of the challenge after returning late Tuesday from a tour of European capitals in an attempt to salvage her Brexit deal. She had promised MPs she would seek "assurances" about their concerns over a so-called "backstop" plan to keep open the border with Ireland.

Many Conservative MPs and May's Northern Irish allies in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) fear a plan for a temporary customs arrangement with the EU will become permanent, with no way out.

But while EU leaders expressed sympathy for May's difficulties, they firmly rejected any attempt to reopen a Brexit deal that was only secured last month after 17 months of talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met May in Berlin on Tuesday, said she still "has hope for an orderly exit" but "no intention to change the exit agreement."

May cancelled a trip to Dublin on Wednesday for talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar amid the leadership challenge.

She is still expected to attend an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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