British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday after suffering the worst parliamentary defeat in modern history over her Brexit proposal earlier this week.
May remained in control by 325 votes to 306. All 314 Tory MPs supported her government, along with the 10 elected members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has been propping up the Conservative Party in Parliament since 2017.
May already survived one motion of no-confidence in December, and she appears to be on even thinner ice after this latest challenge. Tuesday’s vote saw Parliament strike down her plan for withdrawal from the European Union by a resounding 432 votes to 202. Meanwhile, the March 29 deadline for the U.K.’s exit draws ever closer.
Regardless of who occupies 10 Downing Street, Tuesday’s vote effectively brings Brexit negotiations back to square one, and the legislature appears to have only become more divided. The Remain and Leave camps are no longer identifiable by party line, and those 432 MPs who voted against the plan did so for vastly different reasons. A full 118 of them were from May’s own party. Each faction seems to have dug in on its position rather than moving towards compromise. As May herself said after Tuesday’s results came in, “It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how or even if it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”
Meanwhile, important figures on the other side of the table are losing any hope they had for an effective Brexit. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, hinted in a Tuesday night tweet that Brexit should be abandoned altogether. “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”
If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 15, 2019
What does he mean by “no deal?” Well, those are the stakes here. If Parliament fails to agree on a Brexit deal in the ten weeks they have left to do so, the U.K. will break out of the European Union with no structure in place to deal with the fallout. This would send everything from air travel to prescription drug access into turmoil.
As Tusk said, most members of Parliament hope to avoid a no-deal Brexit at all costs, and they still have several legal options for doing so. They can agree on a new plan. They can ask the E.U. for an extension. Or they can hold a second referendum on Brexit and maybe reject the idea entirely, while leaving open the possibility of renewed support.
However, there are also those in Parliament who actually believe this is the right way to go. Some feel it’s the only course left to them. Others are more prone to theatrics, like hardcore Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who intends to break all ties with the E.U. and potentially bring the British economy down with the ship.
The threat of a no-deal Brexit represents a serious test of the fortitude of the U.K. government — not just for May’s camp, but for the system as a whole. Now that she has survived this latest hurdle, May has until Monday to put forward an alternative plan, and the odds of Parliament agreeing appear incredibly slim.