Theresa May survives no-confidence vote after Brexit defeat by a whisker, reaches out to opposition

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after emerging victorious, British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government had won the confidence of the UK Parliament

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London: Beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May has appealed to Opposition leaders to “put self-interest aside” and work with her to secure a new Brexit deal after she narrowly survived a no-confidence vote, a day after her divisive divorce agreement with the European Union (EU) was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.

The prime minister won Parliament’s first no-confidence vote in a British government in 26 years by 325 votes to 306, a majority of 19, on Wednesday.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after emerging victorious, 62-year-old May said her government has won the confidence of Parliament. This now gives “us all the opportunity to focus on finding a way forward on Brexit”, she said.

Britain is set to exit the 28-member EU, which it joined in 1973, on 29 March. With just over two months to go until the scheduled departure, Britain is still undecided on what to do.

May promised to return to Parliament on Monday with an alternative Brexit strategy devised through talks with the opposition.

“Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit, and also address the other important issues they care about,” the Conservative leader said. She called on opposition lawmakers to “put self-interest aside” and “work constructively together” with her to secure a Brexit deal. “It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done,” she said, adding, “Now MPs have made it clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what Parliament does want.”

May said she believed it was her duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union (EU). “And I intend to do so,” she said.

Earlier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that May’s “zombie” administration had lost the right to govern during a six-hour passionate debate in the House of Commons on his motion. His party has not ruled out tabling further no-confidence motions.

Corbyn has made it clear that before any “positive discussions” can take place, the prime minister should rule out a no-deal Brexit.

He urged Prime Minister May to “ditch the red lines” and “get serious about proposals for the future”.

“We are firm of the opinion that the starting point for any talks about how to break the Brexit deadlock must be that the threat of a disastrous ‘no deal’ outcome is ruled out,” Corbyn said in a statement.

After her victory, May told MPs that she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”.

She invited leaders of all parties to have individual meetings with her on the way ahead for Brexit, starting tonight, but called on them to approach the issue with a “constructive spirit”.

“We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” May said.

During her address, the prime minister said she has held “constructive” meetings and will be meeting MPs along with senior government officials in the coming days.

May also reiterated a promise to return to the Commons on Monday to give MPs another vote on her plans.

“The House has put its confidence in this government. I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver Brexit and ensure that this House retains the confidence of the British people,” she said in the House of Commons.

The prime minister survived a vote of no confidence in her government by a margin of 19 votes, thanks to the backing of the 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Had they switched allegiance, the government would have lost by one vote.

May’s divorce deal to leave the EU was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs Tuesday, triggering a no-confidence motion against her government and leaving the country with no plans for Brexit on 29 March.

Her bid to get the Withdrawal Agreement, struck between London and Brussels, was rejected by 432 votes to 202 – a majority of 230, the biggest defeat ever suffered by a British premier in modern history.

Within minutes after the defeat, the biggest for a sitting British government in history, opposition leader Corbyn’s Labour Party moved a motion of no-confidence against the May government.

May has spent two years negotiating the divorce plan aimed at bringing about an orderly Brexit and setting up a 21-month transition period to negotiate a free-trade deal with Brussels.

Her deal included both the withdrawal agreement on the terms on which the UK leaves the EU and a political declaration for the future relationship.

May survived a no-confidence vote by her own Conservative Party in December.

Meanwhile, in a letter published in the Times newspaper, more than 170 leading business figures called for May and Corbyn to back a second referendum on withdrawal from the EU.

“The priority now is to stop us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all.

“The only feasible way to do this is by asking the people whether they still want to leave the EU… politicians must not waste any more time on fantasies. We urge the political leadership of both the main parties to support a People’s Vote,” it said.