London, United Kingdom | AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May reached out to her opponents on Wednesday after narrowly surviving a confidence vote sparked by the crushing defeat in parliament of her Brexit deal.
After a tumultuous 24 hours which she admitted voters might find “unsettling”, she conceded the divorce terms she struck with the EU had been roundly rejected, but vowed to work to find an alternative.
“Now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what parliament does want,” May said in a televised evening address to the nation.
On Tuesday, MPs dealt the prime minister the heaviest drubbing in modern British political history by rejecting the divorce agreement by a stunning 432 votes to 202.
But May emerged victorious on Wednesday night in a confidence vote triggered by the opposition Labour party, the first for 26 years, winning 325 votes to 306.
She set out a schedule of cross-party talks that began immediately with meetings with the Scottish nationalist, Welsh nationalist and the pro-EU Liberal Democrat leaders.
“We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she had told earlier told parliament.
However, opposition leaders set out a list of demands for cooperating, including discussing delaying Brexit beyond March 29, and ruling out the possibility that Britain crashes out without any deal at all.
– Late night talks –
May is working on the tightest-possible deadline as Britain prepares to leave the bloc that for half a century defined its economic and political relations with the rest of the world.
Her defeat sparked warnings from European leaders that the prospect of “no deal” had increased, with the potential for huge economic disruption on both sides of the Channel.
May must return to parliament on Monday with a Plan B that she and her team intend to negotiate with various MPs through the weekend.
But main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would only meet May if she could “remove clearly, once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit”.
May said she was “disappointed” by Corbyn’s decision and stressed that “our door remains open”.
Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party (SNP) said after meeting May late Wednesday that his 35-seat party would only hold “genuine” talks.
If she were prepared to consider delaying Brexit, ruling out “no deal” and the option of holding a second referendum, they would participate, he said in a letter afterwards.
May has flatly rejected a second vote.
– Divorce delay? –
May survived Wednesday thanks to the support of members of her Conservative Party and its Northern Irish allies in the Democratic Union Party.
But more than a third of the Conservatives and all 10 DUP members of parliament voted against her Brexit arrangements on Tuesday — each for their own reason.