What's Next Following The Failed No Confidence Vote In The U.K.?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
British Prime Minister Theresa May has prevailed.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: This has been a long and challenging day. But at the end of it, I'm pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues.
INSKEEP: Her critics brought a vote of no confidence against her and lost. Now she is secure as her party leader, for now. This means she remains in charge of the deeply unpopular task of getting a Brexit plan through Parliament. She backed out of an intent to vote this week - a vote she would've lost. So what now?
Nigel Evans is a member of Parliament, a member of Theresa May's party and was on the program the other day. Now he's back. Mr. Evans, welcome back.
NIGEL EVANS: Good day.
INSKEEP: How did you vote yesterday?
EVANS: Well, I'm an officer of the 1922 Committee, which conducts these ballots.
INSKEEP: So you had to stay away.
EVANS: Well, no, we didn't stay away, but we - all officers took a vow of silence as to how we were going to vote, and it's to show our neutrality so that every member of Parliament would have confidence in the way that we were conducting the vote.
And we conducted it yesterday over a two-hour period in one of the House of Commons committee rooms - Committee Room 14 - and we got a 100 percent turnout. And the result is, as you know, 200 voted for confidence for Theresa May and 117 voted no confidence in her. And that was probably a bigger chunk than Downing Street were expecting to vote against her.
So the prime minister spoke to the members of Parliament prior to the vote taking place at 6:00, and she said that she was listening very carefully. She knew there was a problem with the Brexit withdrawal agreement, and she wanted to go and renegotiate something called the Northern Ireland backstop...
EVANS: ...Which is a - it's something to deal with the Northern Ireland-Ireland border, which would be - which would come into play post-2020 if they couldn't come to some sort of conclusion on a free trade agreement that would mean that there would be no hard border.
EVANS: And this is where the prime minister is now. She's got her - she's got her mandate. She's now in Brussels talking to the Irish Taoiseach. And she'll be speaking to the European Union a bit later today. But she can now go with the authority of British members of Parliament to say, listen; there is a real problem with this withdrawal agreement as it stands, and my own party will not allow me to bring it back unamended.
INSKEEP: Now, you said she's got her mandate, but let's explore that a little bit. You noted that the opposition was a bit higher for her than she might have expected, even though, if I'm not mistaken, she promised not to stay prime minister for too much longer - just to get through Brexit.
EVANS: Yeah. That was a big surprise in her speech yesterday to the members of Parliament. The room was absolutely packed. There were over 300 people in that room. And she started by saying, listen; I know that many of you have got deep concerns, and you've got concerns about me taking you into the next election, and I will now tell you I'm not going to do that. And so what we don't know, of course, is when she will wish to go. But she does want to get Brexit out of the way. And so she's got a tough task on her hands.
But if every time she says to the European Union, listen; you've got to sort out this backstop, it just will not wash with the DUP, which is the part that - our sister party from Northern Ireland. And we rely on their votes to form a government. Well, without them, we're nothing. And if the European Union keeps saying, no, then I'm afraid we really have to insist because there is no way that the prime minister can bring back that withdrawal agreement unless we actually appease our friends in the Democratic Unionist Party that we're not selling them out.
INSKEEP: I see that you're suggesting that the difficulties she's having in Parliament can be used to her advantage when negotiating with Brussels. She can say, I have no choice. You have to do what I say.
EVANS: She has no choice. Apparently, President Juncker of the European Union keeps saying that he has no room to open the renegotiations. Well, he must understand that Theresa May has no room for maneuver. Her bringing back this withdrawal agreement as it is, unamended, quite frankly, she's in the same position as she was last Tuesday when she pulled the vote. So it just simply will not work.
So there's a device called a codicil, apparently, which means you don't have to open the withdrawal agreement, but you can add something onto it which clarifies what the backstop is all about. And if she's able to do that, which means that we're able to unilaterally leave the European Union when we decide, not when the EU decides, and also get the support of those DUP 10 MPs that are vital to us, then she's got a chance. But the EU are sticking their heels in at the moment.
INSKEEP: You think a tweak, which is what that sounds like - a bit of reassurance would do it?
EVANS: No. And she herself knew that that was not going to work, either. She said to the '22 last night that, I understand warm words just simply will not work. You want a legal clarity.
INSKEEP: I see.
EVANS: And that's what's got to happen. It can't just be one of the sort of wishes in the political statement that goes alongside the withdrawal agreement. It has to be something that is legally binding, and it's got to be legally binding on the EU and the United Kingdom.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, of course, in the United States, we use the phrase lame duck for an official who's been in office but been defeated for re-election, or they're not running for re-election. I believe we got that phrase from you. Is Theresa May a lame duck now that she's promised not to stand for re-election?
EVANS: No, she's not a lame duck. She is a prime minister who will have a mandate from Parliament to be able to deliver for the 17.4 million people who voted leave. We've got a remain Parliament. You have to remember that. So she's got a struggle against her own members of Parliament. But she can be on the side of the people. And when politicians take on the people, that's not a very good look.
INSKEEP: Nigel Evans, thanks very much. Pleasure talking with you.
EVANS: Thank you very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: He's a Conservative member of Parliament in the U.K. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.