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After May survives no-confidence vote, what’s next for Brexit?

British politics are in tumult as members of Prime Minister Theresa May's own party triggered an unsuccessful vote to oust her. May promised not to run in the next national election but expressed a commitment to seeing through a deal to execute her country's exit from the EU. Nick Schifrin speaks with Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, for details on the disarray and what might come next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the crucial no-confidence vote that Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May has survived.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, this unexpected challenge to Mrs. May comes amid the larger chaos of the drive toward Brexit.

  • Graham Brady:

    The results of the ballot held this evening is that the parliamentary party does have confidence.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And with that, the head of the Conservatives' Parliamentary Committee announced that British Prime Minister Theresa May survived.

  • Graham Brady:

    The number of votes cast in favor of having confidence in Theresa May was 200, and against was 117.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That hush spoke to a political fight that was close and difficult. But, tonight, May projected confidence.

  • Theresa May:

    This has been a long and challenging day, but, at the end of it, I'm pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues in tonight's ballot.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It had been a tumultuous 48 hours. After her Brexit deal faced intense resistance, she pulled the vote.

    And then, this morning, members of her own party triggered a vote to oust her as their party's and Britain's leader. So, instead of attending a planned meeting in Dublin to fight for her version of Brexit, May headed back to the House of Commons to fight for her job.

  • Theresa May:

    The public voted to leave the E.U. They want us to secure a deal that delivers on that result. And we shouldn't risk handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition M.P.s in Parliament, because that would mean risking delaying Brexit or even stopping Brexit.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    May's defenders called the vote of no-confidence a waste of time.

  • Kenneth Clarke:

    Can my right honorable friend think of anything more unhelpful, irrelevant, and irresponsible than for the Conservative Party to embark on weeks of a Conservative leadership election?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    May might have survived, but her Brexit plan remains controversial, especially the so-called Irish backstop. Right now, Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, part of the European Union, have no land border, and cars and goods can cross easily.

    May's plan would keep that border open, but could leave Britain subject to European Union customs rules indefinitely. Conservative politicians argued her version of Brexit didn't break the relationship with Europe enough. But she also faces opposition from the left and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    The time for dithering and delay by this government is over!

  • Nick Schifrin:

    May has tried to convince Europe to tweak the deal, and held emergency meetings with European officials yesterday. But they held firm, vowing no new negotiations or concessions, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today.

  • Angela Merkel:

    We do not have any intention of changing the withdrawal agreement. This is the general position of the 27 member states, and therefore no changes can be expected at the end of our debates.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    After surviving, tomorrow, May heads to a European Union meeting, where she will once again ask for concessions that the E.U. vows not to grant.

    And with me now on today's vote and where Brexit goes from here is Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, the British think tank and research institute.

    Thank you very much for being on the "NewsHour."

    Can you just tell us how we got here? Why did Conservatives push for a no-confidence vote?

  • Robin Niblett:

    I think we got here — I mean, there's been a bubbling sense of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister May for quite a while now.

    But we got here specifically because she withdrew very unexpectedly the opportunity for members of Parliament to vote on her deal on Monday, and she had members of her Cabinet out saying that she absolutely was going to stick with this vote and call and let the cookie crumble as it might, see how many votes came through.

    And she pulled it in the last minute. And there was, I think, a sense deeply in the Conservative Party, this is the prime minister who botched the snap election she called a bit over a year ago, that some of the lack of political skill gave an opening for those who have been long opposed to her to call a no-confidence vote within the Conservative Party.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is obviously criticism of her deal from multiple angles.

    And one of the things she has said that she will try and answer some of that criticism by talking to the European Union again, by going back to the E.U. and trying to get some kind of better deal.

    But nothing has changed from the European Union. We heard from Chancellor Merkel of Germany today.

    So, is May in a better position or worse position to try and get some kind of tweak for this Brexit deal that's been negotiated for two years?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, I think E.U.-27 leaders know that Theresa May is not going to move, she's not going to go. She cannot be challenged again, at least by the Conservative Party, for her leadership for 12 months.

    There is always a possibility of no-confidence vote by the whole of Parliament in her government, but, again, there, I think the Conservatives would really hang together. You wouldn't get this two-thirds/one-third split.

    So the E.U.-27 know that Theresa May's the person they're going to have to do the deal with. They know at the same time that there is extensive opposition to the type of deal that has been struck.

    But given that there is no majority in the British Parliament for a very hard Brexit, one in which, in essence, the U.K. would drop out with no deal, and nor is there any appetite, I think, for a second referendum, unless it can be possibly avoided, it all comes down to tweaks that can be done on the deal, sidebar commitments that — what you described in your story, the backstop, the insurance policy of what would come into effect if no agreement is struck by the end of 2020, that both sides could say, this is the last resort.

    Maybe we wouldn't let extend more than one year. The agreement for a future relationship would be negotiated in this period.

    But, to be frank, the best they're going to be able to do is tweak around the edges. And I think then Theresa May has to come back to Parliament and challenge those — those leaders to say, look, what do you want? If you don't want this deal, what's the alternative? It's no deal or a second referendum.

    And I think those are the most unpalatable outcomes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, she's going to have about a month to take those tweaks, as you call them, back from Europe and try and sell to Parliament.

    At this point, to use a crystal ball, is a second referendum likely? Is, for example, the Tories, as you mentioned, trying to bring down the whole government, or perhaps even a crash out of the European Union?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Look, there is definitely no majority in Parliament for a crash out of the European Union — European Union for a no-deal.

    I think the prospects of a second referendum are much, much higher than they were even two or three weeks ago. I would put them certainly in the 40 percent range, maybe drifting towards 50 percent, for the simple reason that Parliament cannot agree on what type of Brexit to drive through.

    And we know the Conservative Party, which would have to carry the deal, is riven and is deeply split. So the possibility of a second referendum, which could be carried out pretty quickly, is definitely, I think, on the rise.

    However, just because there's a second referendum doesn't mean you end up with an approval for it. What's in the question? Is the question Theresa May's deal vs. remain, Theresa May's deal, which, remember, is not very popular, or just simply leave?

    It's a very difficult set of questions. I think, personally, if there were a second referendum, there's a strong possibility the country would vote still to leave, but they'd rather leave probably around Theresa May's deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

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