Brexit: Theresa May survives bid to force her from office

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Theresa May opened the door of 10 Downing Street to opposition leaders after winning a vote of no confidence in her government, offering high-level talks in a bid to salvage her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister defeated a Labour bid to force her from office and trigger a general election, winning by 325 votes to 306, and immediately sought to shed the combative image that saw her deal with Brussels crushed by MPs this week.

Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a bid to force her from office

Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a bid to force her from office

But opposition leaders said no meaningful talks could take place until the government ruled out a no-deal Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declined to meet the Prime Minister last night, with his official spokesman accusing the government of “blackmail” for not taking no-deal off the table.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford met the Prime Minister in Downing Street, but said afterwards that no talks could take place until no-deal is ruled out and the government is willing to consider extending Article 50 and allowing a second EU referendum.

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In a letter to Mrs May, he said meaningful discussion “requires a clear gesture of good faith... discussions around cosmetic changes to your deal, which has now been rejected by Parliament will not move this matter forward”.

Defeat of Labour’s no confidence motion immediately piled ­pressure on Mr Corbyn to support calls for a People’s Vote that could keep the UK in the EU.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added to the Westminster drama, saying during a visit to London that she would reveal details of her timetable for second Scottish independence referendum in a “matter of weeks”.

Conservative rebels and members of the Democratic Unionist Party who consigned the Prime Minister to the worst defeat in parliamentary history yesterday rallied behind her to see off the threat of a general election.

Welcoming the result of the vote by MPs, Mrs May pledged to approach with other parties “in a constructive spirit”, but warned opposition leaders that they must “find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House”.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit and ensure that this House retains the confidence of the British people,” she said.

But Mr Corbyn responded: “Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government must remove clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.”

Mrs May is now due to set out her alternative plan for EU withdrawal to MPs on Monday.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said she would also meet eurosceptic MPs in her own party today.

Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether Mrs May would now soften her position on leaving the single market and customs union, as called for by Labour and the SNP.

Earlier, during Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister appeared to leave open the door to a possible extension of Article 50.

Asked by Tory grandee Ken Clarke whether she would “modify her red lines” and delay Brexit, Mrs May said: “The government’s policy is that we are leaving the EU on March 29, but the European Union would only extend Article 50 if actually it was clear that there was a plan that was moving towards an agreed deal.

“That is the crucial element of ensuring we deliver on Brexit.”

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During debate on the confidence motion, MPs on both the Remain and the Leave wings of the Conservative Party warned she needed to make major changes to the deal if she is to get it through the House of Commons.

Appealing to MPs to ditch what he called “zombie government”, the Labour leader accused Mrs May of failing to reach out across party lines. He said any previous prime minister would have resigned following the crushing 230-vote defeat of her Brexit deal.

“There has been no communication on all-party talks,” Mr Corbyn said. “All the Prime Minister said was she might talk to some members of the House.

“That is not recognising the scale of the defeat they suffered last night.”

Responding to Mr Corbyn’s no-confidence motion, Mrs May dismissed his call for a general election saying it would be “the worst thing we could do”.

“It would deepen division when we need unity, it would bring chaos when we need certainty, and it would bring delay when we need to move forward,” she said.

John Woodcock, who resigned the Labour whip to sit as an independent in protest at his party’s leadership, said “with a heavy heart” he could not support the no confidence motion, adding Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell “are simply not fit to hold high office”.

Rounding off the attack on Mrs May, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson raised the temperature of what had been a sparsely attended, low-key debate, claiming Tory MPs “know in their hearts that this Prime Minister is not capable of getting a deal through”.

“No one doubts her determination, which is generally an admirable quality, but misapplied it can be toxic,” he said.

“The cruellest truth of all is that she does not possess the necessary skills – the political skills, the empathy, the ability and, most crucially, the policy – to lead this country any longer.”

Mr Watson accused Mrs May of “humiliating the United Kingdom”, telling MPs: “The country feels genuinely sorry for the Prime Minister.

“I feel sorry for the Prime Minister. But she cannot confuse pity with political legitimacy.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove hit back in kind, saying Mr Watson had failed to mention Mr Corbyn once.

To loud cheers from Tory MPs, Mr Gove taunted: “We both recognise that Mr Corbyn is about he worst possible person to lead the Labour Party.”

In a fierce attack on Mr Corbyn’s record, the Environment Secretary accused the Labour leader of siding with Hamas terrorists and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“While we are standing up for national security, what about Mr Corbyn?” Mr Gove asked. “He wants to leave Nato, he wants to get rid of our nuclear deterrent.

“And recently he said in a speech, why do countries boast about the size of their armies? That is quite wrong, why don’t we emulate Costa Rica, that has no army at all?

“No allies, no deterrent, no army, no way can this country ever allow that man to be our Prime Minister.”