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Home / World News / Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote. What is it?

Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote. What is it?

While Prime Minister Theresa May was visiting European leaders to find support for improving her deal for Britain’s exit from the European Union, some of her own party’s members of Parliament were preparing a no-confidence vote against her leadership.

world Updated: Dec 13, 2018 07:30 IST
The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Files
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Files(REUTERS)

LONDON — While Prime Minister Theresa May was visiting European leaders to find support for improving her deal for Britain’s exit from the European Union, some of her own party’s members of Parliament were preparing a no-confidence vote against her leadership.

On Wednesday, the process came to a head. Here is a guide to how it unfolded.

What Set Off the Vote?

At least 15 percent of her party’s lawmakers — at least 48 members of Parliament — submitted letters demanding a ballot to the chairman of the 1922 committee, the body that represents Conservative backbenchers.

The chairman, Graham Brady, announced Wednesday that he had received more than the required number of letters, and that the no-confidence vote would proceed.

When Did the Vote Take Place?

Conservative lawmakers gathered in Westminster Wednesday evening to give May a chance to address them.

After the prime minister’s address, lawmakers cast ballots in a metal box for about two hours, from 6 to 8 p.m. local time, with the result revealed about an hour later.

May had to win 50 percent of the votes plus one, and there are 317 Conservative lawmakers. (The Tories restored voting rights to two lawmakers who had been suspended previously, raising the total.)

More than the required number of lawmakers — over 158 — had publicly pledged their support, according to British news outlets and posts on social media.

Because the ballots are cast in secret, it was not certain that everyone who promised to support May would necessarily vote for her.

The Vote: 200-117

May now has breathing room.

The lawmakers in her party are barred from challenging her for one year, which strengthens her position.

Brady announced later Wednesday night that the vote had been 200-117, signifying confidence in the prime minister, but it was uncomfortably close.

A very narrow win could have put her under pressure to resign, because dozens of the lawmakers who voted are also government ministers, meaning it could have been argued that she had won only with the support of politicians paid to support her administration.

In 1990, one former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, resigned after she was challenged under a different procedure and won only narrowly in a first round of voting.

May could conceivably also lose power after winning this leadership vote if Parliament as a whole passes a vote of no confidence in her government.

There is no sign of that happening yet. Her Brexit plan, however, still remains imperiled.

What Would Have Happened If May Had Lost?

May would no longer be the leader of the Conservative Party, and Brady would have begun the process to choose a successor, most likely Tuesday.

Lawmakers would have voted in rounds of secret ballots, with the least-popular candidate eliminated each time, until two contenders remain.

Brady said he believed that part of the process could be done by the end of business next Thursday, when Parliament is scheduled to break for the Christmas vacation.

From the two top candidates, the final choice would have been left to around 120,000 members of the Conservative Party who would have voted by postal ballot.

In 2005, the last time the Conservatives held such a postal ballot, it took around six weeks.

After the vote, May spoke of her “renewed mission”: “delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone.”