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    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session, at parliament in London, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. May has confirmed there will be a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party, in Parliament Wednesday evening, with the result expected to be announced soon after.

    If May Fails in Her Demands, 2nd Referendum Could Potentially be Tabled - Prof

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    On 10 December, May called off the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal with the European Union, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday. The prime minister has acknowledged that a significant number of lawmakers would not support the agreement, particularly its provisions concerning the Northern Ireland backstop.

    Sputnik has discussed this with James Downes, a Professor in Comparative Politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

    Sputnik: Now that this vote took place-what's next? 

    James Downes: The No Confidence vote has now taken place and the Prime Minister Theresa May has survived the vote and won (For: 200 and Against: 117). In line with the constitutional rules of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, no further confidence vote by the Conservative Party can now be tabled for the next year at least. The Prime Minister will likely continue in the post for the coming weeks ahead. However, although the Prime Minister won the No Confidence vote, this was the easy part. 

    The next act in the Brexit play will be for Prime Minister Theresa May to go back to Brussels and seek to renegotiate her current Brexit deal. This will be no easy task and there are no guarantees that she will be able to renegotiate key issues such as the Backstop arrangement with Northern Ireland. If the Prime Minister does come back empty handed to Parliament, then it is conceivable that the opposition party, the Labour Party may seek to call a Vote of No Confidence in the Government and bring it down, with support of other opposition parties, such as the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats. 

    However, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is also deeply divided on Brexit. Key divides have emerged on the Brexit issue between the Parliamentary Party and the wider electorate of the Labour Party. These divides will not go away anytime soon.

    READ MORE: ‘British Parliament Would Never Accept Any Deal From Theresa May' — Analyst

    All scenarios are on the table and whilst May won the No Confidence vote within her own party yesterday, she remains a weakened political figure and stated yesterday that she would not lead the party towards the next General Election in an effort to compromise. Expect more political unpredictability in the coming days ahead.

    Just because May won the vote yesterday does not mean that her Brexit deal with now pass in the UK House of Commons, nor does it mean that the EU will acquiesce and allow her an extended transition deal on Article 50. The general perception of British voters is completely different to the Conservative Parliamentary Party and they may now view Theresa May as a ‘lame duck' Prime Minister.

    Sputnik: Many Tories who would like to see May ousted are hard Brexiteers. Removing May has the potential of stalling the Brexit process. What do they actually stand to gain?

    James Downes: By removing the Prime Minister, hard line Brexiteers have sought to change the direction of Brexit. Hard line Brexiteers currently see May's Brexit deal as too ‘soft', particularly on issues such as the freedom of movement, not regaining sovereignty (the European Court of Justice still keeping its jurisdiction on legal issues) and the Northern Ireland backstop. Thus hard line Brexiteers, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson are particularly opposed to the Brexit deal for the key ideological reasons of democracy and sovereignty. 

    At the same time, other hard line Brexiteers would rather see a No Deal scenario on the 29th March 2019, with Britain leaving the EU and effectively trading on World Trade Organization rules, rather than accepting the current Brexit arrangement that they view as a "fudge." The EU issue has long divided the UK Conservative Parliamentary Party and now threatens to completely split the party apart in the coming months ahead. 

    It is important to note that these ideological divides do not just cut across Brexiteers, but also amongst Remainers within the wider Conservative Party. Furthermore, by winning the No Confidence vote, this further serves to show the weakness of Brexiteers within the wider Conservative Parliamentary Party.

    Sputnik: Following Theresa May's attempt to renegotiate something with European leaders, you have said that she was in a fantasy land. With the current situation in the Parliament where she is struggling to gain support from her own party, what options does she actually have?

    James Downes: Effectively the only option that the Prime Minister currently has now is to go to Brussels today and urge key EU leaders to compromise on issues such as the Irish Backstop and other legal issues in the Withdrawal Agreement.

    READ MORE: Who Wants Poison Chalice? If May Loses Who Are Contenders For Tory Leadership?

    There is now a very real possibility that if May fails in her demands, then a People's Vote (Second Referendum) could potentially be tabled. There has been talk of a second referendum and then another third option of a General Election. But the problem with all of these options is that there's just not enough time before Article 50 expires. 

    Sputnik: With the division thriving within the Parliament doesn't it make easier for the EU to abuse the negotiation process?

    James Downes: The EU27 will be extremely cautious about their next steps, particularly as the UK Brexit situation is a fast paced situation which requires great diplomatic care and treading carefully on the EU's side. In my view, the EU will adopt diplomatic policies and will not seek to abuse or undermine the current negotiation process with the UK.

    Prime Minister Theresa May's postponing of the Brexit vote still looks like a politician running scared. To cancel the vote with such short notice shows that the Prime Minister is running scared and has realised that her current Brexit deal would have been unanimously rejected in the UK House of Commons (Parliament). The difficulty for the Prime Minister is that by postponing the original Brexit vote earlier on this week, she has sought to buy herself more time. Yet time is running out for the wider Brexit process. 

    Her Brexiteer rebels may be weakened after yesterday's failed vote, but it is extremely unlikely that the EU will budge significantly on allowing more concessions to the UK on the Brexit Withdrawal Act. The EU are unwilling to budge on any reform proposals, especially in regard to the Backstop arrangement with Northern Ireland, or on the single market and freedom of movement. Thus, May is still stuck in a ‘Catch 22' situation from all sides and now faces a desperately difficult situation.

    Sputnik: Long-term implications for British Democracy?

    James Downes: If a second Referendum was held or Article 50 was revoked, this is likely to further exacerbate polarization within the United Kingdom and further undermine the trust of British citizens in British democracy (both Leavers and Remainers) and overall trust in politicians. My main argument is that we should not be worrying about the short-term economic consequences of Brexit, but the long-term political implications for democracy in Britain. 

    READ MORE: ‘The Best Skill Theresa May Has Got is Kicking a Can Down the Road' — Scholar

    This lack of trust amongst citizens could have disastrous implications in the long-term for Britain as a whole and it could take decades for this trust to return and further polarization is likely to set in. Similar patterns of electoral volatility and record declines in political trust for mainstream parties can be observed across the European continent lately. Mainstream political parties are on the decline and in a number of countries, populist radical right parties have been performing exceptionally well in elections and opinion polls.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Downes and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    Related:

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    Brexit Crisis: PM May Should Resign if She Loses Confidence Vote - Committee
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