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Win or lose: Here's what could happen after Theresa May's vote of confidence

If May wins the vote, she could still be pushed to resign if a large enough number of MPs vote against her.

Image: Michael Cooper

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May is facing a vote of confidence battle from within her own party, forcing her to leave the Brexit deal aside and fight to keep the premiership.

To trigger the vote, 15% of the parliamentary party, or at least 48 Tory MPs, needed to back holding a vote of no confidence, the threshold of which was reached last night. A ballot will be taken between 6-8pm in the House of Commons today, the result will be announced after 9pm.

For May to lose the vote, 158 Tory MPs need to vote against her (that’s half of the total number of 315 Conservative MPs) – but political analysts are saying that if over 100 or 120 MPs vote against her, although she would win the vote, it might force her to resign anyway.

So far, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove have said that they would back the Prime Minister (all possible successors to May as Tory leader).

But the vote of confidence will be held in secret, so it’s possible that those who come out publicly to support her will vote against her in private.

If May wins, another vote of no confidence cannot be held for another year.

However, if she loses it triggers a leadership battle which would be around 12 weeks long, and would be held between two candidates. 

Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, and Esther McVey have been suggested previously as possible candidates – they would need the backing of two MPs to be nominated.

If more than two are nominated, the shortlist would be whittled down by a series of secret votes until just two candidates are left (as was done after David Cameron’s resignation in 2016, directly after the Brexit vote).


Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May walks back in to 10 Downing Street, London. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

On Monday, May announced that the UK parliament’s vote on her Brexit deal that outlines how it will leave the European Union would be postponed, so that she could seek additional assurances from European leaders on the Irish backstop.

She also wished to avoid a massive defeat that could have triggered a vote of no confidence and leadership challenge.

This angered some MPs, both within the Tory and on the opposite benches, as they wanted to vote against the deal to show their opposition to how the Brexit negotiations have been handled.

At the centre of all the disagreement, as it has been for a number of months now, is the Irish backstop. Brexiteers argued that it would unnecessarily tie the UK down and prevent them from striking new trade deals, but the EU and Ireland wanted it to secure the Northern Ireland Peace Process against any political uncertainty in the UK government (proven valid by today’s events, you’d imagine).

Theresa May had been meeting with European leaders including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

May was due to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this afternoon, but as she’s due to give a key speech to her party members just before the confidence vote (at 5pm), that trip has been cancelled.

Theresa May was also due to meet DUP leader Arlene Foster this afternoon.

So… what about Brexit?

In her speech given on the steps of 10 Downing Street this morning, May said that if a leadership battle was sparked now, that it would almost certainly delay or call off the Brexit process.

A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21 January, which is the final date by which the House of Commons can ratify (or approve) May’s Brexit deal, she argued.

If it’s any later than that, the Article 50 will need to be extended, which the EU has indicated it would only extend by a matter of weeks, and only if it was certain that a deal would be passed.

In her speech, May also said that it wouldn’t be possible for a successor to renegotiate a new Brexit deal by 29 March (assuming the EU would want to renegotiate, its officials have repeatedly said they wouldn’t), meaning Brexit would have to be delayed or abandoned entirely.

At the moment, the most likely outcome is that Theresa May will pass the vote of no confidence, but will be significantly weaker afterwards. 

If May does win the vote, as BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg puts it, both sides will be left in limbo as May won’t have the support to pass a Brexit deal and MPs won’t have the power to oust her for another year. 

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