A critical parliamentary vote on Brexit, which had been postponed this week, will now take place in January, according to the parlimentary schedule released on Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Theresa May survived an attempted coup by her MPs to topple her.
The confirmation came as May reached Brussels to seek further assurances from European Union (EU) leaders on the controversy-hit Brexit deal.
May who won a vote of confidence in her leadership after her party MPs voted 200 to 117 in her favour on Wednesday night, will be seeking legally binding pledges from the EU leaders at the European Council summit in Brussels on the controversial Irish “backstop” clause – the plan to avoid a return to a manned border post-Brexit between UK territory Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Meanwhile, it became clear that the Withdrawal Agreement, which has divided all sides of the House of Commons, will only come up for a parliamentary vote in January after Commons leader Andrea Leadsom released next week’s parliamentary business on Thursday.
As the vote is not listed for next week and the UK Parliament goes into its Christmas recess after that, the Commons vote can only take place next month now when MPs return from their holiday.
This will give May some breathing space to try and table a further bolstered version of the deal, though EU leaders have made it clear that there can be no re-drafting of the agreement.
Speaking outside Downing Street minutes after the result of the confidence vote was announced, May vowed to deliver the Brexit “people voted for” but said she had heard the concerns of MPs who voted against her and will be seeking further assurances from the EU.
At Thursday’s summit, May will have an opportunity to spell out face-to-face the problems to leaders of the other 27 member states. The EU leaders will then consider her representations, without May herself being present in the room.
While the British prime minister has emerged victorious after a failed coup by the Brexit wing of her party, her position has been considerably weakened. She has the comfort of knowing that under Conservative Party rules she cannot be made to face a similar leadership challenge until at least another 12 months, but she faces an uphill task of getting a Brexit bill through the Commons where many of her own MPs are waiting to vote against her.
In an attempt to hang on to her post, she has also announced a major concession – that she would not be leading the Tories into the General Election, scheduled for 2022. This is likely to kick-start plotting and planning by all potential leadership candidates within the party, keen to succeed her at the helm.
“We are still back with the problem that the government has a proposal that we can’t get through Parliament and we have got to try and break that gridlock,” said Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats – which is firmly opposed to Brexit.