What happens if Theresa May wins – or loses – a no-confidence vote?
The Week rounds up reaction and predictions after Tuesday’s historic Commons defeat for the prime minister
Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her government on Wednesday evening, after MPs rejected her Brexit withdrawal deal by a margin of 230 votes.
At 432 votes to 202, it is the largest parliamentary defeat suffered by a government in almost a century. What is more, it came against the prime minister’s flagship policy, which has taken her nearly two years and much political capital to negotiate with the European Union.
Will Theresa May win a confidence vote?
Following the defeat of her Brexit deal, a no confidence motion was immediately tabled by the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party.
Yet opposition votes will not be enough to win the vote, with “at least seven Tory MPs needed to vote against their own government [which would] risk a general election”, says The Independent.
While both Tory Brexiteer rebels and the Conservatives’ Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) allies have indicated they will back the prime minister on Wednesday, the scale of the defeat of her Brexit deal, which saw 118 Tory MPs voted against her – a similar number to those who voted for her to go in December – means the result is far from guaranteed.
Further adding to the uncertainy, a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn suggested Labour could table another motion of no confidence in the government if they lose Wednesday’s vote.
The spokesperson added that the government was “quite clearly unable to govern”, and said the “unprecedented” scale of the defeat made clear that “no amount of tweaking or talks on the detail are going to change that”.
What if Theresa May loses a confidence vote?
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) brought in under the Coalition, a 14-day “cooling-off period” would allow the prime minister time to prove that she did, in fact, still have the confidence of the Commons, while opposition parties could try and form a government.
Realistically, the Tory party would make it clear May’s position was untenable, yet “it is possible that a vote of no confidence in the government could topple May without bringing the party down with her”, says The Daily Telegraph.
“If, for example, the DUP had abandoned the prime minister for the vote, they might then return to the Tory fold if a candidate they could support were to become Conservative leader”, says the paper.
Barring that, a general election would be called and it would be up to Conservative MPs to decide whether to let Theresa May lead them in the campaign.
What if Theresa May wins the vote of no confidence?
If she survives the vote on Wednesday night, the prime minister has said she “will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our confidence and supply partner the DUP and senior parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House”.
“The government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress, we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House. If these meetings yield such ideas, the government will then explore them with the European Union”, she told MPs.
According to The Guardian’s political editor Heather Stewart, May’s top mandarin, Olly Robbins, has been working up secret contingency plans for cross-party talks aimed at testing MPs’ backing for up to six different Brexit options.
“One approach being seriously considered is a period of negotiation that could be overseen by civil servants, with the aim of testing which of up to six options could command a majority in the Commons”, Stewart says.
“It has not yet been decided whether the government would open the door to direct talks with the Labour leadership over what should happen next – or seek to work through backbench channels,” she adds.
In the event she gets the backing of MPs, May is expected to travel to Brussels within 48 hours for fresh negotiations to save her draft withdrawal agreement.
Yet there were conflicting reports following Tuesday’s vote as The Times said that “European Union governments are ready to reopen 'all dossiers' of the Brexit deal after the defeat amid gloomy economic figures in the eurozone”.
However, the BBC’s Brussels reporter Adam Fleming tweeted that “EU sources are ruling out a special summit or the reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement in the stronger terms this evening.”
Taking to Twitter, European Council President, Donald Tusk, seemed to throw his weight behind a second referendum or even the idea that the UK should cancel Brexit entirely.
Will Article 50 have to be extended?
Whether May wins or loses the confidence vote, it is hard to see how either a general election or further negotiations with Brussels could be conducted before the UK formally leaves the EU on 29 March.
Given the already tight legislative timetable, most commentators now expect the Article 50 process to be extended.
Speaking on Sky News, Labour peer Lord Mandelson said he is now taking it for granted that this will happen.
Yet given the default legal position that the UK will automatically leave the EU without a deal on the 29 March, there are fears Britain could crash out by on a no-deal Brexit by accident.