British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday in Parliament, one day after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly against her plan to divorce Britain from the European Union.
Surviving the vote enables May to refocus on getting a Brexit deal through Parliament. May has until Monday to offer a new proposal to the House of Commons, but it isn’t clear what she will propose.
Shortly after the 325-306 vote allowing May to remain in office, she invited party leaders for Brexit talks Wednesday night.
May said before the vote that Britain would leave the EU on the March 29 target date, and that the bloc would consider extending the negotiating period only if there were a realistic exit plan.
Aides to the prime minister said she would try to buy more time and return to Brussels to try to cajole EU leaders into a renegotiation.
EU leaders, however, have repeatedly rejected the possibility of renegotiations since the deal was concluded in November. But with Tuesday’s defeat, which followed five days of intense debate, British officials hope Brussels now may offer enough concessions to secure parliamentary backing on a replayed vote on an amended deal.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labor Party, filed a motion of no confidence in the government immediately after the result Tuesday.
Britain would have held a general election had May lost the vote. Most analysts said they expected her to survive the vote, and the minority Northern Ireland party she relies on to keep her minority government in office had said it would back the government.
Tuesday’s vote was the biggest parliamentary reversal ever handed a sitting government, with lawmakers — including more than 100 rebels from her ruling Conservative Party — refusing to endorse the highly contentious Brexit deal.
The government’s defeat plunged into greater disarray Britain’s scheduled March 29 exit from the EU. Major questions remain about how and whether it will happen.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday that after the British Parliament’s rejection, the risk of reaching the deadline with no deal in place was higher than ever.
The draft deal, which took two years of ill-tempered haggling with European leaders to conclude, drew support from just 202 lawmakers, while 432 voted against it. The defeat dwarfed the 1924 record when then-Labor Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald lost a vote by 166, triggering the collapse of his government and a general election, which he lost.
After the vote, May said, “The vote tells us nothing” about what the House of Commons would agree to regarding Brexit.
The defeat of May’s plan will give further momentum to a burgeoning campaign in the House of Commons, and among Remainers in the country, for a second referendum, according to analysts. Remainers hope a replayed referendum would reverse the Brexit plebiscite of 2016, which Leavers narrowly won.
The vote on the deal — which originally was due in December but was delayed by the government when it became clear there was insufficient backing for it to pass — also leaves hanging in the balance May’s future as prime minister. Her aides maintained at the end of a day of high political drama that she wouldn’t resign.
“She is the person who has to deliver Brexit,” said British Business Minister Claire Perry, who said May didn’t need to resign.
“There will be other attempts at this. There will be strenuous efforts to improve on the deal,” Perry said.
The sheer scale of the defeat threw into doubt whether even a reshaped Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would secure parliamentary approval — even if the EU were prepared to reopen negotiations.
“Her Plan B, more of the same, is hopelessly optimistic,” said commentator Isabel Oakeshott. EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker canceled an event planned in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday so he could remain in Brussels for possible emergency talks with May. The prime minister’s RAF jet was put on standby, readied for her to travel to the Belgian capital.
Juncker tweeted when news of the historic vote broke: “I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening. I urge the UK to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up.”
EU President Donald Tusk reflected the frustration of many in Brussels, tweeting: “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?”