Downing Street has dared Jeremy Corbyn to bring a vote of no confidence in the Government in a bid to seek a general election, after blocking the opposition leader’s attempt to target the Prime Minister.
The Labour leader had demanded a Commons vote on Theresa May’s future after she confirmed a showdown on her Brexit plan would not take place before Christmas.
The Labour leader tabled a long-threatened motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister, after she set out the timetable for MPs to pass judgment on her deal with Brussels in January.
But the vote faced being opposed by Theresa May’s opponents in her own party and the DUP, and the Government would have to allow Commons time for the confidence vote to take place this week.
A Downing Street source said on Monday night: “We won’t allow time for what is a stunt.
“The FTPA (Fixed-term Parliaments Act) applies if Labour wants to put down a motion under the terms of that.”
The Prime Minister had said the Commons would have the chance to debate her Withdrawal Agreement in the week MPs return to Westminster after Christmas on January 7.
The crucial vote - which was postponed earlier this month to avoid a heavy defeat - will take place the following week.
Mr Corbyn told Mrs May: “A responsible prime minister would, for the good of this country, put this deal before the House this week so we could move on from this Government’s disastrous negotiation.”
He said it was “unacceptable” to delay the vote and confirmed he was tabling a motion “that this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister”.
The wording of the motion, targeted at Mrs May rather than the Government as a whole, would not trigger the process set out under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which could eventually lead to a general election.
But Labour said it was clearly a confidence motion and should be allocated time for debate by the Government.
A House of Commons spokesman said: “By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of a motion tabled by the official Opposition which, in the Government’s view, would have the effect of testing the confidence of the House.
“It will be for the Government to determine whether to schedule time for debate on this.”
After Downing Street said it would not allow time for a vote on the PM, Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery accused Theresa May of “running scared of Jeremy Corbyn’s no confidence vote, just as she’s running scared of the vote on her flawed Brexit deal”.
Setting out the timetable for the Brexit vote, Mrs May told the Commons: “It is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU and I know many members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon.”
The Prime Minister warned MPs that rejecting her deal would not result in an alternative “miraculously” appearing.
“Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely,” she said.
In a warning to campaigners calling for a second referendum, she said it would “break faith with the British people” and do “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”.
But one of Mrs May’s closest allies said “all options” should remain open if the deal is rejected.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said it would be important to find out the “will of Parliament” on how to proceed, while Business Secretary Greg Clark also appeared to back an indicative vote to find out what - if anything - MPs could support.
The Prime Minister’s statement came as:
- Cabinet ministers openly speculated about how to proceed if the deal is rejected.
- Brussels appeared to dispute claims that negotiations were continuing over the terms of the deal.
- Planning for a no-deal Brexit was being stepped up, with the Cabinet discussing “the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario” on Tuesday.
The smaller opposition parties meanwhile have tabled an amendment to Mr Corbyn’s no-confidence vote in Mrs May that they say would beef it up into a full confidence vote in the Government.
The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have backed the change, laid down on Monday night to trigger the legally binding FTPA provisions.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford, who signed the amendment, said: “It is clear the Prime Minister’s tactic has been to run down the clock and deprive Parliament of any alternative to her deal.
“Jeremy Corbyn seems happy to let her - presumably to avoid having to make a decision on a second EU referendum.
“This is not acceptable - people deserve better.
“If Labour are serious about wanting a general election, they must accept our amendment.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has called for clarity about what concessions the Prime Minister is seeking from the EU.
The Northern Irish party’s 10 MPs are adamantly opposed to the inclusion of any backstop in the withdrawal treaty because they believe it could separate the country from the rest of the UK.
Mr Dodds said: “There is a need for clarity from the Prime Minister about exactly what she is asking for to deal with the key concerns about the legally binding indefinite nature of the backstop with no right for the United Kingdom to exit on its own terms.
“The EU’s response to the summit was not surprising, but the Prime Minister must decide whether she will stand up to such tactics or once again accept a deal on Europe’s terms alone.”
He made the call following a statement from the Prime Minister to Parliament.
The North Belfast MP said: “Following the summit last week the European Council have talked about clarifications and reassurances but ruled out renegotiating, contradicting or reopening the legal text.
“They also even struck out text which stated the backstop didn’t represent a desirable outcome for the EU27.”
The DUP is threatening to vote down the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan unless there is significant change.
The backstop is an insurance policy if no better trade deal is struck, designed to preserve a frictionless Irish border.
It would keep Northern Ireland bound by some of the EU’s regulations in exchange for an open frontier.