United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May survived a leadership challenge Dec. 12 within her party that would have led to her ouster as the head of government. However, she still faces the potential threat within Parliament of a general no-confidence vote raised by opposition parties over her handling of the UK exit from the European Union, known as “Brexit.”
However, May reportedly told her Conservative (“Tory”) Party members that she would step down before a statutorily set 2022 general election.
She also faces a vote as early as next week on her Brexit plan, which May postponed Dec. 10, admitting she lacked the necessary support to pass it. Opposition parties may raise a parliamentary vote of no confidence as well.
In the party leadership battle, May received 200 votes expressing confidence, while 117 were opposed. A simple majority provided her the victory. Under Tory Party rules, she may not be challenged again for 12 months. The vote was triggered under a procedure in which at least 48 Tory members of Parliament, or 15%, submitted a letter to a special committee.
However, the major opposition party, Labour, which holds 257 seats, has floated raising a no-confidence motion in Parliament, in which all 650 MPs would vote. May would need to prevent a majority of members from casting votes against her, and her party and its coalition ally, the Northern Ireland DUP, hold just 50.3% of the body’s seats.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, said immediately following May surviving her challenge that he would call for a vote the week of Dec. 17 on the Brexit package May negotiated. May’s government was found in contempt of Parliament Dec. 5, a censure never previously made in the centuries-old history of the governing body, after withholding the full legal advice of her attorney general. That vote required defections from her party and coalition partner.
Were May to lose on a no-confidence vote in Parliament, her coalition government would be forced to resign or call an immediate, or “snap,” election. However, no-confidence votes rarely succeed. The last two times a government fell due to such a motion were in 1979 and 1924. More frequently, prime ministers lose a leadership challenge, resign under pressure, or her or his party loses sufficient seats in a general election.
Prime ministers can typically count on their own parties even in the midst of internecine disputes to survive a no-confidence vote. Yet with 117 voting against her in the leadership race and a handful of votes providing her majority in Parliament, there’s no certainty as to what would happen next.
May has held tenaciously to power through several “own goal” missteps, such as calling a general election in 2017 that cost her party 15 seats and a clear majority without a coalition partner. Her government’s handling of Brexit has led to a deal that the EU agreed upon, but which is widely reviled within the UK as providing none of the financial and sovereign benefits touted for leaving the EU and all of the regulatory burdens without a say in how rules are set.