International

Theresa May to join EU summit after surviving vote

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, 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.

At today’s summit, she will have an opportunity to spell out face to face the problems surrounding the withdrawal agreement at Westminster to the 27 other EU leaders.

Without May, the EU leaders will then consider what could be done.

A draft of the European Council conclusions on Brexit says the EU would use its “best endeavors to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop so that it would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.”

In other words, the EU would continue trying to negotiate a trade deal with the UK even if the Irish backstop had been triggered at the end of the transition period.

The Brexit withdrawal agreement only talks about ‘best endeavors’ being used to reach an agreement during the transition period.

But the draft put forward by the European Council could be subject to change, the BBC’s Adam Fleming says.

Westminster critics of May’s Brexit deal might also complain that it is not legally binding.

But the same document reiterates that the withdrawal agreement is not open to renegotiation, adding that it would not have been even if the Conservative Party had changed leaders.

The prime minister won the confidence vote with a majority of 83 – 63% of Conservative MPs backing her and 37% voting against her.

May spoke of a “renewed mission-delivering the Brexit people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that really works for everyone”.

Her supporters urged the party to move on but critics said losing the support of a third of MPs was “devastating”.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said the level of opposition was “not at all comfortable” for the prime minister and a “real blow” to her authority.

The outcome of the vote was welcomed by Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who said avoiding a no-deal exit from the EU was a “shared goal”.

But May still faces a battle to get her Brexit deal through the UK parliament, with all opposition parties and dozens of her own MPs against it.

How have Conservative MPs reacted?

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who led calls for the confidence vote, said losing the support of a third of her MPs was a “terrible result for the prime minister” and he urged her to resign.Brexit-backing Tory MP Mark Francois told the BBC it was “devastating” that more than half of backbenchers not serving in the government had abandoned the prime minister.”In the cold light of day when people reflect on that number-117-it’s a massive number, far more than anyone was predicting. I think that will be very sobering for the prime minister. I think she needs to think very carefully about what she does now.”Transport Secretary Chris Grayling conceded there were “lessons” for the prime minister and the party in the result but former cabinet minister Damian Green said it was a “decisive” victory which should allow May to “move on and get on with the job in hand”.Nicholas Soames urged Brexiteers to “throw their weight” behind the PM as she sought to address the “grave concerns” many MPs had about aspects of the EU deal.

What are the opposition saying?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the vote had “changed nothing”.”Theresa May has lost her majority in parliament, her government is in chaos and she’s unable to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the country.”Labour has said it will table a no-confidence motion that all MPs-not just Conservatives-will be able to vote in when they felt they had a chance of winning it, and forcing a general election.The SNP’s Stephen Gethins urged Labour to “step up to the plate” and call a vote of no confidence in May, accusing the government of “playing games with people’s lives”.DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party, which helps keep May in power, was still concerned about the Irish backstop plan, which most MPs were against.”I don’t think this vote really changes anything very much in terms of the arithmetic,” he told BBC News.But he said the DUP would not support a no-confidence motion in Parliament at this stage. (BBC)