Labour leader says government must hold election if it cannot pass Brexit legislation
Wed 16 Jan 2019 13.01 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn has accused Theresa May of leading “a zombie government” with no hope of pushing through a Brexit deal, and urged MPs to back a motion of no confidence in the government.
Speaking the day after May’s Brexit deal was defeated by 230 votes, the Labour leader said it was “the largest defeat in the history of our democracy”.
“By any convention of this house, by any precedent, the loss of confidence and supply should mean they do the right thing and resign,” he said. “If a government cannot get its legislation through parliament, it must go to the country for a new mandate and that must apply when it is on the key issue of the day.”
But the prime minister, who is expected to win the vote on Wednesday evening after Conservative Brexiter rebels and her Democratic Unionist partners both pledged support, said an election would cause division, uncertainty and delay and was “the worst thing we could do”.
“Far from helping parliament finish the job and fulfil our promise to the people of the United Kingdom it would mean extending article 50 and delaying Brexit for who knows how long,” she said, adding that there was “no guarantee an election would deliver a parliamentary majority for any single course of action”.
While the start of her speech prompted rousing cheers from many of her MPs, May faced repeated interventions to ask which of her Brexit “red lines” she might compromise on to seek wider support.
During prime minister’s questions, May appeared to rule out backing membership of a customs union, something her spokesman confirmed afterwards.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper intervened to say such intransigence, after May had promised to seek cross-party support, was “making this impossible. The prime minister appears to be talking as if she lost by 30 votes yesterday, and not by 230.”
The no-confidence motion is being held under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which allows the normal five-year period between elections to be broken if MPs pass a specifically worded motion saying: “That this house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s government.”
Corbyn tabled the motion immediately after Tuesday night’s vote, having previously declined to confirm the timing. If passed, the motion does not automatically trigger an election, rather, a 14-day period begins during which the government can seek to gain more support, or a new administration can emerge.Advertisement
The Labour leader said on Wednesday that May’s government could not “command the support of parliament on the most important issue facing our country”.
“Every previous prime minister in this situation would have resigned and called an election and it is the duty of this house to lead where the government has failed.”
May said that rather than fight an election, the public would expect MPs to “finish the job” of Brexit, something she said must happen along the broad lines of her rejected plan.
“What I am doing is setting out what the British people voted for in the referendum in 2016. That is our duty as a parliament,” she said.
During PMQs, Corbyn accused May of being “in denial” over her Brexit deal, mocking her for, as he put it, seeking to press ahead with it as if the vote had not happened. He widened his criticism to lambast her record in areas such as education, the police and poverty.
Corbyn began his questions by correcting his claim on Tuesday evening that May’s defeat had been the worst for a government since the 1920s; it had been the worst in history, he said. The Labour leader then asked May whether she had ruled out membership of a customs union as a plan B.
May indicated that she had, saying that while she was seeking to learn “what could command the support of this house and deliver on the referendum”, any proposal must involve “opening up new opportunities to trade with the rest of the world”.
Corbyn responded: “The prime minister seems to be in denial about that, just as much as she’s in denial about the decision made by the house last night.”
After May also refused to rule out a no-deal departure, he said: “Can’t she understand? Yesterday the house rejected her deal. She needs to come up with something different than that.
“In denial on a customs union. In denial on no deal. In denial on the amount of money being spent on no deal. In denial on last night’s result.”