Theresa May vows to carry on with Brexit as the clock starts ticking on the end of premiership after winning the confidence of 63% of her MPs: Brexit News for Thursday 13 December

Theresa May vows to carry on with Brexit as the clock starts ticking on the end of premiership after winning the confidence of 63% of her MPs: Brexit News for Thursday 13 December

Theresa May vows to plough on with Brexit after winning the confidence of 63% of her MPs (although the clock starts ticking on the end of premiership)

An emotional Theresa May last night promised she would resign before the 2022 general election in a desperate bid to cling to power. The PM set the clock ticking on the end of her Premiership as she addressed all Tory MPs last night. Minutes later, they decided to give her more time in No10 in a dramatic snap confidence vote on her rocking leadership. But Mrs May took a heavy blow, as 117 Tories refused to back her versus 200 who did – a majority of 83, or 63% of her troops. Her bitter critics seized on the deep split to insist she would step much within weeks, rather than serving up to three more years. In an attempt to ease the tidal wave of anger against her handling of Brexit, the PM revealed she was giving up her burning ambition to right the wrong of last year when she threw away the Tories’ Commons majority. She told a packed Commons committee room: “Look in my heart, I would have liked to lead the Party in the next election, partly because of what happened last time. But I realise that the party would like a different leader to take them into that election.” – The Sun

  • Theresa May pleased after confidence win as PM vows to get on with Brexit – Express

May will today head to Brussels for the EU summit…

Theresa May is heading to Brussels for an EU summit, less than 24 hours after surviving a vote of confidence. The prime minister is seeking legally binding pledges from EU leaders on the Irish backstop – a key obstacle for MPs who oppose her Brexit deal. The EU will not renegotiate the deal but may be willing to give greater assurances on the temporary nature of the backstop, the BBC understands. The PM won the ballot on her leadership by 200 votes to 117 on Wednesday night. The secret ballot was triggered by 48 of her MPs angry at her Brexit policy, which they say betrays the 2016 referendum result. Speaking in Downing Street after the vote, Mrs May vowed to deliver the Brexit “people voted for” but said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her. “I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop and, when I go to the European council tomorrow, I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members of parliament have on that issue,” she said. – BBC News

  • Theresa May heads to Brussels after surviving confidence vote – Sky News

…where she hopes the Irish backstop row can be defused…

Theresa May is heading to Brussels seeking legal assurances over the Northern Ireland backstop, as she tries to strengthen non-binding EU language suggesting that the measure would only ever apply for “a short period”. Fresh from surviving a leadership challenge in which more than a third of Conservative MPs voted against her, the British prime minister will try to toughen up a planned statement by EU leaders at their Brexit summit on Thursday.  Draft conclusions from the summit suggest the EU is ready to provide “assurances” that the backstop to prevent a hard border in the island is an insurance policy that “does not represent a desirable outcome” for the EU and would only last for “as long as is strictly necessary”. But EU officials have resisted the UK’s requests for statements to be given full legal force, and have insisted the bloc cannot in any way “contradict” or change the meaning of Britain’s withdrawal treaty. The backstop has proved to be the major stumbling block to House of Commons approval of the withdrawal treaty because many Eurosceptic Conservative MPs loathe provisions that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU and which neither side can end unilaterally. – FT (£)

…and can expect to find bewilderment over yesterday’s confidence vote…

Brussels was already bemused at the U.K.’s political crisis. Now, it is bewildered. Ahead of a planned vote of confidence in Theresa May among MPs in her ruling Conservative party on Wednesday, many in Brussels expressed growing frustration and confusion at where London is heading. Diplomats from the EU27 countries say they don’t understand what Tory MPs, who have triggered the challenge to her leadership, are trying to achieve. Once a formidable diplomatic power in Brussels’ complex decision-making, the U.K. is now seen muddled and inconsistent in the messages it is sending to the EU. “I feel sorry, astonished and really angry with the inability to solve the problem they put themselves in [with Brexit],” one EU diplomat said. In his letter inviting EU leaders to a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk referred to the “seriousness of the situation in the UK” without mentioning the leadership challenge directly. “The intention is that we will listen to the UK Prime Minister’s assessment, and later, we will meet at 27 to discuss the matter and adopt relevant conclusions,” he wrote. – Politico

…although EU leaders are reportedly set to give her only 10 minutes to make her case

The European Union is poised to reject Theresa May’s demands for “legally binding assurances” that the Irish backstop will only ever be temporary, senior EU diplomats have told The Telegraph. The EU rejection will come as another serious blow to the Prime Minister who was pinning her hopes of a legally-binding side-agreement with the EU to help convince her back-benchers to accept her Brexit deal. EU ambassadors met in Brussels on to discuss how to respond to Mrs May’s pitch to leaders at Thursday’s summit dinner, where she will be given 10 minutes to outline what she needs to get the deal over the line in Westminster. “Politically she can have all the warm words she wants, but it was very clear in the meeting that there is very little appetite indeed for anything legally binding,” said a senior EU diplomatic source. – Telegraph (£)

EU leaders say they want to help Theresa May pass Brexit deal but refuse to make serious concessions…

EU leaders are watching on in horror at the Tory “catfight” unfolding in Westminster – but will still not make the concessions Theresa May needs to unite the Conservatives when she arrives in Brussels on Thursday. The prime minister will have a rare two-way discussion with her EU counterparts at the European Council summit on Thursday afternoon, fresh off the plane from surviving a bruising confidence vote in Westminster. But despite a generally positive tone in Brussels, with officials and diplomats alike suggesting they want to help the prime minister, serious changes to the agreement that would actually win around her MPs will remain effectively off the table. The prime minister is hoping national leaders will give her breathing space and something to take back to the UK that will ease the ire in Westminster – with a late night meeting to draw up “reassurances” planned. – Independent

…as the European Parliament says the backstop ‘cannot be renegotiated’ and calls for the EU to step up no-deal planning

European Parliament chiefs have warned that the backstop in Theresa May’s Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated and urged the EU to intensify planning for a no-deal. The conference of presidents, the leaders of the parliament’s main groups, said in a resolution adopted behind closed doors on Wednesday afternoon that MEPs would veto any deal without a backstop. The Parliament is the latest part of the EU to rule out changing the deal struck with the UK in March, following similar statements by the Commission, Council, and a slew of key member states. The group leaders agreed that “the withdrawal agreement and political declaration are fair and balance and represent, given EU principles, current UK red lines, and the commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement, the only deal possible to secure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union”. – Independent

Leo Varadkar begs Sinn Fein MPs to take their seats at Westminster to save May’s Brexit deal

The Irish prime minister pleaded with Sinn Fein’s president Mary Lou McDonald to take the unprecedented action to counter rebellious Conservatives trying to oust Mrs May and force a no-deal divorce. The Prime Minister faces a vote of no confidence, leaving EU leaders fearful for future Brexit negotiations and scrambling for ideas of how best to ensure the UK’s orderly divorce from the bloc. Mr Varadkar made his bombshell intervention into British politics in order to save the Irish backstop, which he insists cannot be renegotiated. In a direct appeal to Sinn Fein, he said: “We are trying to avoid a scenario in which the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland crashes out of the European Union and that means ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement which the European Union and 28 governments have agreed. – Express

John McDonnell confronted by Labour Brexit split claims

Labour MPs could quit the party unless the leadership supports a second referendum on EU membership, according to ITV political editor Robert Peston, who made the warning to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell… Speaking to the Shadow Chancellor, Mr Peston said: “There are quite a lot of Labour MPs who are passionate about this ‘People’s Vote’. “Some of them, they tell me, could well leave the Labour Party if Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t ultimately go for it. The official Labour position is that the Party could support a second referendum if its unable to force a General Election via a no-confidence vote.” However, McDonnell insisted Labour would not split over another EU vote. He said: “No I don’t think so, we’re a broad church. At Labour Party conference we agreed a compromise which has held us all together which says make sure we get a deal that protects jobs and the economy. If we can’t get that we’ll call for a General Election, if we’re forced to there’s the option of a people’s vote.” Dozens of Labour MPs are publicly backing the people’s vote campaign, which is pushing for a second referendum. During the interview, Mr Peston added some Conservative MPs believe Mrs May will end up advocating another public vote. – Express

Nick Timothy: Theresa May lives to fight another day, but there is no doubt her Brexit deal is dead

“A win is a win,” a Tory minister said Wednesday, and while Theresa May lost the support of more than 100 MPs in the confidence vote, the Prime Minister and her allies insist she lives to fight another day. It is true that the votes cast against the PM mean the deal she negotiated with the EU is as dead as a dodo. Few of the MPs who voted against her are likely to vote for her deal now, and neither are the opposition parties. The votes against her also mean Theresa May’s future is decided. As she hinted on Wednesday, her short and troubled premiership is likely to end some time next year. Despite turning a significant portion of the Tory Parliamentary party, the Hard Brexiteers who engineered the confidence vote failed. They failed to win enough votes to force the Prime Minister out and proved they are way short of a Commons majority to force a no-deal Brexit. – Nick Timothy for the Telegraph (£)

Boris Johnson: Are we really going to abandon Brexit because of a Mars bar shortage?

The nice French doctor looked beadily at the screen. There were the results of my tests, in irrefutable detail. They had taken my blood; they had beeped in my ears; they had covered me in painful hair-pulling electrodes, and now there was no use bluffing. I tried to draw her attention to what I conceived was my Hulk-like strength, the blast furnace super bellows of my lung capacity. She wasn’t having any of it. There was the key piece of data — blinking like a Geiger counter. I have really known it, or suspected it, for decades. In the past few months I have had the joy of being back on my bike, and the reality of my physique has been obvious to all the people who have overtaken me; and when I say all, I mean all. There have been moments — puffing uphill, against the wind — when I could have been overtaken by a toddler on a tricycle. It’s not my tyres. It’s not the cycle superhighways — excellent in every respect. The grim truth is that, excluding my rucksack, I have been carting around 16-and-a-half stone, and there it was on the doctor’s screen. – Boris Johnson for The Spectator

John Redwood: A managed exit without signing the Withdrawal Agreement – you will still be able to travel to the continent

One of the sillier Project Fear scares has been that if we just leave the EU there will be no agreements in place to allow planes to fly to and from the EU  and the UK. The Transport Secretary has recently reported that the UK has now concluded all of the third country aviation agreements needed with non EU countries, save four small countries still to be completed. Those agreed include the USA, Canada, Switzerland and Israel. Within the EU the Commission has made clear that in all circumstances including a so called No deal exit there will be an agreement between the UK and EU after Brexit allowing routine aviation to continue as before between the UK and EU. Individual member states have also expressed a willingness to  put in place any arrangements needed to ensure continuation of air services. As I have pointed out, leading UK and continental airlines are busy selling tickets for after March 29 2019, and have every reason to suppose they will be able to honour those contracts. People can book their business trips and holidays as normal, and expect the planes to fly subject only to the usual things that might delay or lead to flight cancellations which have nothing to do with Brexit. – John Redwood’s Diary

Simon Lambert: The Leave or Remain question backfired like Hoover’s free flights, but would you really want a new Brexit referendum?

At the risk of shoehorning the Hoover story into this column, David Cameron’s own promotional offer of ‘vote for me and get an EU referendum free’ similarly backfired. When against expectations he saw off the UKIP threat and was elected with no need for coalition partners, he decided to up the ante and give the nation the choice to Leave or Remain. And what an unholy mess that has left the country in. With just under three months to go to our exit date, we cannot agree on a plan for leaving, risk a lorry-park-on-the-M20-style no-deal Brexit and have a government teetering on collapse. We also have an opposition party seemingly more interested in its success than the UK successfully navigating Brexit. The situation is characterised as a row between Leave and Remain, however, the real problem is not that rift but the vote we had in the first place. With hindsight it should never have been structured to deliver a simple result, but no clear indication of what the country wanted from it, or in our future relationship with the EU. – Simon Lambert for the Daily Mail

The Sun says: Theresa May must take the DUP’s Brexit concerns seriously if she wants to survive as PM

Theresa May is nothing if not a ­survivor. But she must not think she’s now off the hook. Mrs May imagines her victory last night is a mandate for an even softer Brexit than her doomed deal represents, she is badly mistaken. She may have beaten her Eurosceptic rebels for now. But the real judges of her handling of Brexit will be 17.4million Leave voters. They will be merciless if the Tories now pivot, in blind panic, towards the disastrous Norway-Plus option — or get the blame for announcing a second referendum. Mrs May’s duty now is to ensure Britain is ready for leaving on March 29, deal or no deal. But The Sun welcomes her decision not to fight another election. Of her many mistakes, the gravest has been to expose our great country, the fifth biggest economy on the planet, to the existential danger of a Labour Government of Marxist extremists. Last year’s election disaster, costing the Tories their majority, was the direct result of her personal failings, her lack of warmth, her stilted TV performances and a suicidal manifesto that took the party’s core voters for granted. Her party cannot go through that again. But the PM MUST now take the DUP’s Brexit concerns seriously. Their votes are vital to her survival. If they pull the plug, the next election won’t be in 2022, it could be within weeks . . . with Mrs May still at the helm. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • Brexiteers hunker down for trench warfare as Theresa May survives confidence vote – The Times (£)
  • Nine versions of a People’s Vote: how a referendum could look – The Times (£)