U.K. Leader Seeks EU Lifeline After Surviving Confidence Vote

LONDON (AP/Reuters) -
Oliver Robbins, Brexit Advisor to Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, leaves 10 Downing Street in Westminster, London, Thursday. (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking a lifeline from European Union leaders after winning a no-confidence vote triggered by Conservative lawmakers unhappy with her Brexit plan.

May will ask the 27 other EU leaders at a Brussels summit Thursday for reassurances about the Brexit divorce deal that she can use to win over a skeptical British Parliament. The British leader scrapped a planned vote on the deal this week when it became clear she would lose.

The bloc is adamant there can be no substantive changes to the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

On Wednesday evening, May survived a vote on her leadership from Conservative lawmakers by 200-117. The victory gives her a reprieve from domestic pressure but the size of the rebellion underscores the unpopularity of her Brexit plan.

Meanwhile, the European Union says it “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” to Britain over the Irish “backstop” and their tentative divorce agreement, a draft seen by Reuters showed on Thursday.

The draft, a six-point document the EU is preparing for May on Thursday to help convince the divided U.K. Parliament to approve their Brexit deal, said any such assurances would not “change or contradict” the agreement.

The other 27 EU states are not yet in agreement on large parts of the draft text and diplomatic sources expected it to change considerably. The paragraph on the EU’s readiness to provide more assurances to Britain was likely to change later in the day because of opposition from Ireland and others.

Several EU diplomatic sources said Britain was seeking to terminate the backstop after three years.

There was no immediate confirmation from the British side but the draft EU text had no end-dates and only reiterated the bloc’s long-standing line:

“The European Council underlines that the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the Union. The backstop is only intended as an insurance policy … It is the Union’s firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement.”

Even if triggered, the backstop would “apply only temporarily unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement,” the draft said.

The bloc also commits in the document to “best endeavors” to swiftly agree a new EU-U.K. deal even after the backstop is triggered “so that it would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.”

After listening to May and asking her questions, the other 27 leaders will stay in the room and try to agree on what to offer her.

Beyond the backstop, the draft currently reiterates that the EU wants to build “as close as possible a partnership” with Britain in the future, promises swift EU ratification of the tentative Brexit deal, but also calls for preparations for a no-deal Brexit.