No-Confidence Vote Fails, But Challenges To Theresa May's Power Still Persist

Dec 12, 2018
Originally published on December 13, 2018 8:25 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While the vote ends a feverish day of speculation in the capital, the prime minister still faces many challenges. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt is here to explain it all. Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So let's just start with the vote itself. Give us a sense of what it all means.

LANGFITT: Well, you know, the good news is she survived. She got 200 votes. And more good news, Audie - this is very important - is under the Conservative Party's rules, since she survived this one, she can't be challenged again for a year, so she has some breathing space. The bad news is 117 members of her own party in Parliament have no confidence in her, and that has to sting.

And keep in mind, mathematically, she doesn't even have a majority in Parliament here. She relies on another party, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, to help pass bills. And you've got to wonder going forward how much support on legislation can she really expect and rely on members of her own party after a vote like this?

CORNISH: Right. There's a difference between surviving and winning, so to speak, right?

LANGFITT: Exactly.

CORNISH: How much power does she have going forward?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, less than she did last week, and she didn't have a lot of power last week. In order to secure the votes, just as you were pointing out earlier, she kind of had to tell people, OK, I'm not going to run again in the next election. Now everybody - honestly, everybody assumed this, frankly, because she had run an election back in 2017 that went very badly. And there's sort of an expectation that after Brexit, the party's going to want a clean slate.

But by making this so clear this evening, she's basically saying, I'm not the future of the party. And so you have to figure that they're going to be - there already were today, and earlier, people who are thinking, you know, they want to be prime minister the next time there's an opportunity to do this, especially if she falters again.

So she's just - you know, she's not somebody that people are going to be looking to. And power - a lot of - fundamental to power is the sense that this person can command votes, and they're going to be there for a while.

CORNISH: Does this vote actually change anything when it comes to the path towards Brexit?

LANGFITT: It does. I mean, earlier today and yesterday, there was a real concern that if she were deposed, this made a no deal more likely. And the concern there was there wouldn't be enough time to get a new leader in place and that the United Kingdom would actually crash out of the European Union. And there was great concern about the damage that would do to the economy here. Now, economists and businesses have to be breathing a sigh of relief tonight.

On the other hand, it doesn't really do anything to change the arithmetic about what you were talking about earlier - how unpopular her Brexit withdrawal deal is. Again, she had to pull that vote on Monday. There's no sign since Monday she's won a single vote that she could then go back and take the bill back to Parliament.

And so that remains, frankly, very difficult for her. And it's unclear how she's going to get - move that bill down, you know, down the track.

CORNISH: So where does the prime minister go from here?

LANGFITT: Well, I think she fights on. But, still, it's a really big uphill battle. And then tomorrow, she actually flies back to Brussels. She's going to see the European Council. And what she said she's going to do is seek legal and political assurance. And what she wants is to kind of allay the concerns of many members of Parliament on this withdrawal agreement.

Now, the sticking point on the withdrawal agreement has been it could require Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, to actually stay inside a customs arrangement with the European Union for years, and the U.K. would have no unilateral ability to pull out of it.

The EU, though, says, we're not renegotiating this at all, so it's hard to see what Prime Minister May can bring back from Brussels that's going to satisfy anybody here in her - many people in her own party. So she still has a lot of big hurdles ahead.

CORNISH: That's NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt following this story. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Audie.

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