UK PM Theresa May sees off leadership threat over Brexit, for now

May's troubles are far from over as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) went into revolt mode by abstaining during some votes in the House of Commons on Monday

Theresa May
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May (Photo: Reuters)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday chaired her first Cabinet meeting at Downing Street since high-profile ministerial resignations over her controversial Brexit withdrawal agreement as she saw off a threat to her leadership for the moment.

Divisions within the camp of Brexiteer MPs in her Conservative Party meant that the 48 letters required to trigger a no-confidence vote have so far failed to materialise.

However, May's troubles are far from over as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) went into revolt mode by abstaining during some votes in the House of Commons on Monday.

This effectively shakes up the May government, which relies on the 10 DUP MPs for its majority in Parliament.

"We had to do something to show our displeasure," said DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson, who said his party believes the Brexit agreement with Brussels breached a "fundamental" assurance that Northern Ireland would not be separated from the rest of the UK.

Under the terms of their confidence and supply agreement, agreed after May lost her Commons majority in last year's general election, the DUP is supposed to back the government on Budget matters and on confidence votes.

Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, said the DUP's withdrawal of support on a Budget measure raised questions as to how long the government could carry on in the face of widespread opposition to May's Brexit deal.

"We no longer have a functioning government. With Brexit only a few months away, something has got to give," he said.

May insists her Brexit deal is in the national interest and will allow the UK to take back control of its "money, laws and borders".
She heads to Brussels on Wednesday to hold talks with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker on striking a future trade partnership with the European Union (EU) after Britain has formally left the 28-member economic bloc on March 29, 2019.

The EU is set to sign off on the draft agreed with the UK at an emergency summit on Sunday. However, there are signs of tension on the EU side over the controversial agreement as well, with Spain saying it will not agree to the draft without clarity over how talks on the future status of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on Spain's south coast, should be handled.

The British premier's troubles are now expected to come to a head once again when the withdrawal agreement, the so-called divorce deal with the EU, comes up for a vote in the UK Parliament next month.

It will be seen as an effective vote on her own leadership and could revive the pro-Brexit rebel backbench MPs into action to try and gather the 48 letters required to trigger a vote of no-confidence.
Britain had voted in favour of Brexit in a referendum in June 2016, which led to the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to set the clock on the country's exit from the EU.

The controversial withdrawal agreement is the result of months of negotiations on both sides and is aimed at preventing the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU without any deal.

Critics of the agreement struck by May believe it gives away too much to the EU, including control over locking the UK into a Customs Union in future.