Europe

'Time to put self-interest aside': Theresa May calls on parliament to show Brexit unity

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British Prime Minister Theresa May's government saw off a vote of no confidence in parliament on Wednesday, brought after MPs overwhelmingly rejected the Brexit deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has issued a blunt warning to her political rivals and MPs from her own party in the wake of the Brexit vote defeat: "This is now the time to put self-interest aside".

Ms May earlier narrowly won a confidence vote triggered by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, following yesterday’s crushing defeat over Brexit deal.

The Labour leader called the vote after Tuesday's crushing defeat for May over the EU divorce agreement - but Ms May's Conservative MPs rallied behind her and the government won the confidence vote by 325 to 306, staving off the threat of a general election.

MPs on Tuesday rejected Ms May's deal on leaving the European Union by a historic margin, leaving the Brexit process in disarray just over two months before the March 29 withdrawal date.

But on Thursday, Ms May called on MPs to come together and deliver a Brexit result.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged MPs to come together to get Britain out of the EU.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged MPs to come together to get Britain out of the EU.
SBS News

"This is now the time to put self-interest aside," she said, in a press conference outside 10 Downing St.

"Time to put self-interest aside and deliver on the referendum.

"I believe it’s my duty to get on with the people’s instruction and leave the EU... I’m inviting MPs from all parties to come together and find a way forward."

She said, she'd met with representatives from the Liberal Democrats, the SMP and Plaid Cymru but was disappointing Labour had not taken up her offer.

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SBS Europe Correspondent Ben Lewis explains the significance of the British PM's successful no confidence result.
SBS Europe Correspondent Ben Lewis explains the significance of the British PM's successful no confidence result.

"But our door remains open," she said.

The scale of Brexit vote defeat - by 432 votes to 202 - left Europe reeling, with various countries saying they would intensify preparations in case Britain crashes out with no deal at all.

The two leaders face off across the chamber.
The two leaders face off across the chamber.
PA

Theresa May has seen off a bid to remove her government, winning a no-confidence vote by 325 to 306.
Theresa May has seen off a bid to remove her government, winning a no-confidence vote by 325 to 306.
AAP Image/ House of Commons/PA Wire

The vote was the heaviest drubbing by parliament in modern political history and the renewed chaos, triggered Mr Corbyn’s confidence vote – with the Labour leader calling the Brexit vote “chaotic” and a “decisive defeat” for the government.

Opening a debate on a no-confidence motion, Mr Corbyn said the government "should do the right thing and resign" after Tuesday night's record-breaking defeat.

“The prime minister has consistently claimed that her deal, which has been decisively rejected, was good for Britain workers and business… she should have nothing to fear by going to the people,” he said.

However, the motion – which had the backing of the Green Party, SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru – was never likely to get over the line.

Senior Labour said Ms May still had the backing of Tory rebels and the DUP's 10 MPs, who less than 24 hours ago helped inflict a humiliating defeat on her.

But it may have only been a pyrrhic victory for the hobbled but determined leader as she tries to steer the world's fifth-biggest economy through its biggest crisis in a generation.

The Labour Party could try to oust her government again in the hope of triggering snap elections before Britain's scheduled March 29 Brexit date.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
PA

Ms May herself is working on the tightest-possible deadline as Britain prepares to leave the bloc that for half a century defined its economic and political relations with the rest of the world.

She has promised to return to parliament on Monday with an alternative Brexit strategy devised through cross-party talks with the opposition.

There is now an assumption among many European diplomats that Brexit will have to be delayed to avoid a potentially catastrophic "no-deal" breakup.

Ms May notably refused to rule out the idea when quizzed about it in parliament earlier on Wednesday.

Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street after British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected her divorce deal with the EU.
Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street after British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected her divorce deal with the EU.
AAP

What's next?

Ms May has indicated she's keen to get back to talking Brexit strategy and has already invited opposition leaders to meet with her for talks.

"I would like to invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with me individually and I would like to start these meetings tonight," she told parliament.

But EU leaders also indicated the possibility of further talks, and there is an assumption among many European diplomats now that Brexit will have to be delayed. 

Ms May promised to reach out to other parties in parliament to find a consensus, promising to return with a new plan on Monday.

Before then, however, she must overcome a confidence vote called by the main opposition Labour party, which is hoping to force an election.

Delay Brexit?

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Ms May expects to win the 7pm vote, as even the most vociferous critics of her Brexit deal in her Conservative party and among her Northern Irish allies have said they would support her.

Beforehand, she was taking no chances, however, refusing to indicate how she might compromise with opposition parties in the coming days.

Ms May repeated two key principles - limiting EU migration and pursuing an independent trade policy -- which would rule out Labour hopes of membership of an EU customs union or its single market.

But she hinted at the possibility of delaying Brexit, saying the EU would allow this "if it was clear that there was a plan towards moving towards an agreed deal".

EU officials have said extending the negotiating period could be possible but only until the newly-elected European Parliament meets in June.

Ms May now faces a no confidence vote on called by the opposition Labour Party.
Ms May now faces a no confidence vote on called by the opposition Labour Party.
PA

However, Ms May's Downing Street office denied any change in position, saying Brexit would happen in March as planned.

Blurring red lines

Before Tuesday's vote, EU leaders repeatedly said they will not reopen the withdrawal deal sealed at a special Brussels summit in December.

But, following the defeat, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested there may be room to "make improvements on one or two things."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added: "We still have time to negotiate but we're now waiting on what the prime minister proposes." 

Irish Prime Leo Varadkar added: "We have always said that if the United Kingdom were to evolve from its red lines on the customs union and on the single market, that the European Union could evolve also."

More than one third of Ms May's MPs - 118 out of 317 - voted against her Brexit deal, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said she was leading a "zombie government".

Opening the no confidence debate on Wednesday, he said the agreement was "officially dead" and demanded Ms May "do the right thing and resign".

But the prime minister, who stood up to speak to cheers from her own side, said an election was "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.

However, the vote left Britain with no plan as it prepares to leave the bloc that for half a century has defined its economic and political relations with the rest of the world.

While MPs agreed to reject Ms May's deal, they had different reasons, with some judging that it either kept Britain too close to the EU or not close enough.

And there was still no consensus on how to proceed.

Many Brexit supporters, including Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Ms May's government in parliament, want her to renegotiate her deal.

But for pro-Europeans, Tuesday's vote fired the starting whistle on a more radical bid to change her strategy.

Dozens of MPs are calling for a second referendum with an option to cancel Brexit altogether.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was the "only credible option", adding: "We don't have any more time to waste."

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