The Quick Read on Theresa May’s Pyrrhic Victory in a No-Confidence Vote

4 minute read

What Happened This Week:

Theresa May pushed off the vote on her Brexit withdrawal deal that was to take place on Tuesday in the House of Commons… only to be subjected to a vote on confidence in her leadership by her own Conservative Party on Wednesday. She managed to survive (the final tally was 200 for and 117 against), but the prognosis for her Brexit deal is still looking gloomy.

Why It Matters:

Usually, when a sitting prime minister wins a vote of no-confidence, it’s accompanied by some much-needed political momentum. Not this time. In order to secure the win, May promised her fellow Conservatives, or Tories, that she would step down as head of the party before the next election cycle — effectively making herself a lame-duck leader at a time when she can least afford to be.

May still hopes to pass her Brexit deal through British parliament, but that was always a long-shot—and now that she’s effectively announced a countdown clock on her leadership, her ability to twist arms and make deals to ensure passage of her Brexit deal has not increased.

What Happens Next:

May has been on the back foot pretty much the minute she stepped into office, pulled in all different direction by Remainers who wanted the softest type of Brexit possible (if one at all), Leavers agitating for a no-nonsense (and very little compromise) break with Brussels, and the average Brit growing increasingly worried about the U.K.’s future beyond March 2019, when the country is supposed to leave the European Union. All those factors remain the same.

There was some hope that a decisive win in this no confidence vote—more than 210 votes in her favor—would bolster her mandate and force rebellious Tory members to fall in line and support her deal. Anything less than 195 votes in favor might have demolished her premiership. The 200 votes she ultimately netted does little for her except allow her to continue muddling through, though she is technically safe from another no-confidence vote being called against her for at least a year.

It’s far from certain she will last that long. Her Brexit deal—derided by British politicians across the spectrum—still looks likely to fail in the U.K. parliament. The E.U. will begin intensifying preparations for a no-deal Brexit, as no other deal is in the works. Which means the chaos of U.K. politics will roll over into January at least, when British politicians will be forced to hastily transition to a plan B (assuming neither a referendum or new elections are called). The holidays can be a tough time of year.

The Key Number That Explains It:

One — the amount by which Theresa May’s vote tally in her no-confidence vote (200) was greater than in the election that originally made her Tory leader (199), over two years ago.

The Key Quote That Sums It All Up:

“No one really got what they wanted today. Those who triggered the vote just look frustrated, unfocused and lacking a strategy. For the rest of us – the Government stumbles on, no nearer an answer or resolution.” – Craig Oliver, former Director of Communications for Prime Minister David Cameron and editor for BBC News.

The One Major Misconception About It:

That the E.U. takes any pleasure in the U.K’s political meltdown. Usually, when the infighting and dysfunction on one side of the negotiating table spills out into the open, the side sitting across from it benefits. Not this time. While a no-deal Brexit might be cathartic for Brussels and the ultimate “I told you so” for the remaining 27 E.U. states, it would still be a definite hit to Europe.

The One Thing to Say About It:

When the final gambit to save your premiership is “I promise not to run again”, the game is already lost. A lame-duck EU member state is now being led by a lame-duck prime minister.

The One Thing to Avoid Saying About It:

I wonder how many people within the Republican Party would cast an anonymous vote of “no confidence” against Trump if given the opportunity.

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