Theresa May survived yesterday’s vote of no confidence. We shouldn’t expect this to be the last one. She has no deal, no majority, and no idea of where to go next. It’s still possible that Jeremy Corbyn could win a vote of no confidence and trigger a general election.
The government only won the confidence vote by nineteen votes. The European Union has been very clear that they will not renegotiate the current deal. The withdrawal agreement that was rejected so spectacularly by the Commons is “a fair compromise and the best possible deal” according to President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker. This effectively rules out renegotiation or any chance of getting a new deal.
As a result, the default position is hard Brexit. There is widespread opposition to this in the House of Commons, and Jeremy Corbyn is now calling for the government to rule out it out before he enters into negotiations with Theresa May, negotiations that May needs to enter to have any chance of getting a deal through the commons. However, May also needs to win the support of the champagne-sipping, pro hard Brexit European Research Group, lead by Jacob Rees-Mogg. It is said to have around seventy members, who are in favour of a hard Brexit.
Adding to her difficulties is the fact that the DUP, whose ten votes proved crucial in defeating the no-confidence vote, are opposed to any hard border with Ireland and any EU interference in Northern Ireland.
The rejected deal, as stated in Barnier and Juncker’s letter clarifying the draft agreement, did “not extend regulatory alignment with European Union law in Northern Ireland beyond what is strictly necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland,” but this was asking too much.
It would require keeping all of the UK in the customs area until an alternative solution was found to keep the Irish border frictionless - and there isn’t an obvious alternative. Continued membership of the customs areas would necessitate the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and offers no unilateral way for the UK to leave the agreement without the support of the EU. More losing control than taking back control.
Once it begins to sink in that the European Union are not going to offer a better deal, and that renegotiation isn’t an option, it is conceivable that the government could lose a vote of no confidence. If the DUP had chosen to vote against her for example, the government would have lost by one vote. The same margin by which Margaret Thatcher defeated James Callaghan in 1979.
Corbyn only needs twenty MPs on the conservative benches to abstain in a vote of no confidence to win. Given the fractious nature of the Conservative party, and given that it will be challenging for May to form a workable coalition to support a viable deal with Europe, Corbyn could very well be in a position to win a vote of no confidence in the coming weeks and trigger a general election.