Prime Minister Theresa May won a confidence vote in the British parliament on Wednesday and then appealed to lawmakers from across the political divide to come together to try to break the impasse on a Brexit divorce agreement.
Lawmakers voted 325 to 306 that they had confidence in May’s government, just 24 hours after handing her European Union withdrawal deal a crushing defeat that left Britain’s exit from the bloc in disarray.
With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.
After the results of the confidence vote were announced to cheers from her Conservative lawmakers, May said she believed parliament had a duty to find a solution that delivered on the 2016 Brexit referendum result.
But with lawmakers deadlocked on the way forward, the United Kingdom could face a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit, a delay to Brexit, or even another referendum on membership.
“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 statement outside her Downing Street office.
“That’s why I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward. This is now the time to put self-interest aside.”
After the confidence vote, May met several party leaders, but the main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to hold talks unless a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.
“Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that,” he said.
Labour wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.
May’s spokesman said she was not ruling out a no-deal option and that it was government policy to be outside an EU customs union. Critics said this meant May was not budging from the deal that had alienated all sides in parliament.
Other opposition parties wrote to Corbyn after the confidence vote to demand he now back a second referendum, which Labour has agreed should be considered if it cannot force an election.
However, he and other senior political figures fear that stopping Brexit could alienate the 17.4 million people who voted to leave.
The Times newspaper said both remaining in a full customs union with the EU and delaying Brexit through an extension of Article 50 would be discussed at meetings between the government and lawmakers.