Brexit, what happens now?

The government has survived a vote of no confidence

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Corbyn loses the no confidence vote, the Brexit stalemate persists

By Joe Harker

Jeremy Corbyn's vote of no confidence has been defeated, as many expected it would be, with 306 voting for his motion and 325 voting against it. Many MPs who voted against Theresa May's Brexit deal paradoxically still say they have confidence in her ability to govern the country and continue on with the process of leaving the European Union.

Similarly, many Conservative MPs who voted against her in a party vote of no confidence have now backed May when they had previously indicated they don't agree with her leadership or competence on Brexit.

It's quite simple, even if many in the Tory party want Theresa May to leave and have no confidence in her Brexit plan they absolutely do not want to open the door for a Labour government. The Tories are disjointed on almost every issue but united in their distaste for losing the reins of government to Jeremy Corbyn. They will only kick May out so long as one of their own is going to be the next prime minister.

She also had the support of the DUP, who voted against her Brexit deal and would have brought down her government had they chosen to vote against her this time. If their 10 votes had been in favour of the no confidence motion it would have passed by a single vote. This doesn't change the fact that they have no intention for voting for her Brexit deal in its current form.

A successful vote of no confidence would have obliged the government to resign or call a general election, either way May would have been going as she said she wouldn't lead the Tories into the next election.

The government therefore survives, but the UK is no closer to a resolution on Brexit since the prime minister's deal suffered the largest ever House of Commons defeat in the history of British politics. Her deal will not pass and the prime minister has been adamant that there will be no second referendum.

Immediately after surviving the confidence vote May said she would speak to party leaders in an attempt to secure a cross party consensus for a Brexit deal, a change from her stance earlier in the day where Corbyn had been omitted from her plans to discuss her deal.

If the prime minister is to have any hope of reaching a cross party consensus on Brexit she is going to have to drop some of her red lines, though the prospect of that happening has already taken a blow.

Fearing a strong backlash from Brexiteers in her own party, May immediately ruled out the prospect of staying in the customs union as part of the deal she would be willing to offer the Commons. Both Labour and the SNP, the second and third largest parties in the Commons, have rejected Brexit deals on the grounds that they did not continue membership of the customs union.

So where does the UK go from here? Attempts to secure a cross party consensus will most likely fail, meaning the prime minister won't get a deal she can pass through the Commons. Having survived the confidence vote there will likely not be a general election, the government didn't win a confidence vote just to risk being voted out.

Those pinning their hopes on a second referendum are also likely to be disappointed. Despite pressure from his own MPs, Corbyn has shown few signs that he is in favour of backing another Brexit vote. His plans to get the Tories out of government and do Brexit himself have been scuppered for now but that doesn't mean he will automatically back another referendum. In a briefing he said backing another vote if his confidence motion failed was "not the default option".

Quite what his preferred option might be is a mystery. His main plan defeated at the first stage, Corbyn now has to come up with something else. The clock is ticking and he cannot hide behind ambiguous wordings or vague statements, he needs to decide what his stance and by extension the stance of the Labour party is going to be.

If he is not going to advocate for a no deal Brexit or a second referendum then his other option is to try and convince May to accept his demands for a deal and secure a cross party consensus. As mentioned previously the customs union will be a sticking point. He has already said there cannot be "substantive talks" until the prospect of a no deal Brexit is off the table.

Corbyn may also want to avoid looking like he is helping May stay in government by striking an agreement with her on a deal, particularly after his previous plan involved trying to get her and her government out. Why would you work with someone you have no confidence in?

There are 71 Labour MPs who have declared public support for a second referendum, while the Liberal Democrats, Green party, Plaid Cymru and SNP would all consider another Brexit vote their primary priority. However, they are only 122 MPs in a parliament of 650. Even with the support of a small minority of Tory MPs they haven't got anywhere near enough clout in the Commons to push for a second referendum.

The Times reports that the Labour leadership is considering asking their MPs whether they want a second referendum or to aim for the softest possible Brexit. The party needs to sort out what deal it wants for upcoming cross party talks with the government.

The prime minister may be emboldened by surviving yet another vote of no confidence but it doesn't change the fact that the UK is still no closer to finding a solution on Brexit. Her attempts to find a cross party consensus will likely hit the rocks very quickly over the customs union while the lack of support in the Commons for a second referendum makes the chance of another public vote on Brexit unlikely.

Despite being the option a vast majority of MPs want to avoid the UK is still heading for a no deal Brexit on March 29. Extending Article 50 would delay that fast approaching prospect but there appears to be no majority in the Commons for any one direction on Brexit. To quote Theresa May, "nothing has changed".

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