If ministers deny MPs a debate, Labour will put the threat of a general election on the table

Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a motion of no confidence in Theresa May in a dramatic bid to force a Parliamentary countdown to a general election.

The Labour leader made the shock move after the Prime Minister told MPs the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal would be delayed until the week beginning January 14. 

At the end of May’s Commons statement, Corbyn got up to reveal he would deploy a little-used technique of calling for a confidence vote in the PM on Tuesday. May swiftly left the chamber soon afterwards.

Within minutes, Labour MPs were then privately told that if ministers refused Parliamentary time for the vote, the party would swiftly table a formal vote of confidence in the Government that could spark a general election.

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, an election can only take place against the will of a sitting PM if a majority of MPs vote for one.

On yet another day of heated debate, MPs had erupted with anger at the PM pushing back debate on her faltering withdrawal plans until after Christmas.

Corbyn surprised May by demanding a personal confidence vote in her premiership, a move aimed at pinning down the 117 Tory MPs who demanded her removal last week.

The motion would be non-binding, and largely a symbolic bid to exploit Conservative splits over Brexit and her leadership.

But HuffPost UK has also been told that Chief Whip Nick Brown told a weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that the party would immediately switch to a binding confidence vote in the Government itself if ministers refused to grant Commons time on Tuesday.

“He said that if the Tories don’t agree to the confidence vote in May then we will table a no confidence motion in the Government, which under the Fixed Term Parliament Act does have to be taken,” one MP said.

Asked if the escalation to a full confidence motion would be immediate, Brown told MPs it would.

Shadow Cabinet minister Barry Gardiner told Channel 4 News Labour’s tactic were “about escalating pressure incrementally”. 

Labour surprised the Tories when Corbyn failed to push the confidence issue at the start of his first response to May’s statement.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell went on TV to say that Labour had won a victory in forcing May into announcing a specific date for her Brexit vote.

But a senior No.10 source said that the party had been caught out by the PM’s announcement. 

“For a party that’s trying to present itself as a government in waiting, it’s been utterly shambolic.”

Earlier, Corbyn raised a point of order in the Commons after May had been updating MPs on Brexit negotiations for one hour and 30 minutes.

“I have listened very carefully to all of the answers the prime minister gave during this lengthy exchange today,” he said.

“I have listened very carefully to what members on all sides of the house have said and it is very clear that it is very bad, unacceptable, that we should be waiting almost a month before we have a meaningful vote on a crucial issue facing the future of this country.

“The prime minister has obdurately refused that to ensure that a vote took place on the day she agreed, she has refused to allow a vote to take place this week and is now I assume thinking the vote will be on January 14, almost a month away.”

Corbyn said the PM’s offer was “unacceptable”.

He added: “As the only way I can think of of ensuring a vote takes place this week I am about to table a motion which says the following:

“That this house has no confidence in the prime minister due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away on the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relationships between the UK and the European Union and that will be table immediately.”

Speaker John Bercow offered the PM a chance to respond, but she declined.

A Labour source told HuffPost: “It’s clearly a confidence motion. The government must find time to debate this tomorrow.

“If they refuse to do so it is because she does not retain the confidence of the House of Commons and they know she would lose.” 

Labour would need the support of some DUP MPs and Tory Brexiteers for Corbyn’s motion to succeed. 

HuffPost UK learnt last week that talks between Labour and DUP were held, a senior Corbyn ally said it was “unlikely” Arlene Foster’s party would back them. 

An unholy alliance with Conservative backbenchers also seemed unlikely.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the influential chair of the Tory faction of eurosceptic MPs, the European Research Group (ERG), meanwhile, told May he would support her. 

He congratulated her “on winning the confidence of the Conservatives in this House last week”, adding that he wanted to “assure her that she therefore commands my confidence too”.

A statement released by the ERG in the minutes after the motion being tabled, added: “ERG members will of course be voting with the Government on this meaningless Labour motion.” 

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