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Corbyn moved too soon – and let May take over the House again

16 January 2019

7:17 PM

16 January 2019

7:17 PM

Theresa May has won her no confidence vote, and by a decent margin – with a majority of 19. As we expected, the vote has allowed the Tories to — temporarily – unite. May can now say that despite suffering a record defeat for any government on her single most important policy, she commands the confidence of the House.

The Tories will also hope that the failure of this confidence motion will push Labour’s own Brexit divisions up the agenda. Those Labour MPs who want a second referendum will now become more vocal. They’ll say that Labour have tried and failed to get an election, so — by the conference motion — Corbyn should now swing behind a second vote. (His loyalists will point out that a People’s Vote was only one of the other options mentioned in that conference motion).

But May’s victory doesn’t mean that she is any closer to finding a Brexit deal that can get through the House of Commons. There are suggestions that with this vote behind her, she might indicate a bit more open mindedness on customs. But Labour can call a confidence vote again, and if they see a worsening of relations between May and the ERG they may well have another go.

Corbyn’s mistake was being pressured into holding this no confidence vote too early. There are three parts of her parliamentary coalition that May needs to worry about: the DUP, the ERG and the Tory backers of a second referendum. As tonight showed, all three groups are on board for the moment. The DUP will back May unless and until the backstop looks like it will become a reality. The ERG will only vote against her in a confidence motion if she goes much softer as she tries to get a Brexit plan through the Commons; Cabinet Ministers think embracing a customs union would lead to some Tory MPs voting against the government in a confidence vote. As for the Tory backers of a second referendum, even if they were prepared to end their Tory careers by voting against the government, it is not clear what that would get them. For Corbyn is not backing one either.

May will now embark on talks with senior parliamentary figures before returning next week to set out her next steps. But right now, no Brexit option appears to have any momentum behind it.


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