Theresa May has survived as prime minister after weathering a dramatic no-confidence vote in her government, but was left scrambling to strike a Brexit compromise that could secure the backing of parliament.
In a statement in Downing Street on Wednesday night, the prime minister exhorted politicians from all parties to “put aside self-interest”, and promised to consult with MPs with “the widest possible range of views” in the coming days.
It followed her announcement that she would invite Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders for immediate talks on how to secure a Brexit deal, something she had declined to do earlier in the day, although Labour later said Corbyn would decline the invitation unless no-deal was taken off the table.
A day after overwhelmingly rejecting her Brexit deal, rebel Conservatives and Democratic Unionist party (DUP) MPs swung behind the prime minister to defeat Labour’s motion of no confidence by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19.
In her late-night statement, the prime minister said: “I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour party has not so far chosen to take part – but our door remains open … It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done.”
The Scottish National party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, met May on Wednesday night, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, also accepted her invitation.
Blackford later wrote to May, urging her to make a “gesture of faith” to show that she was serious. He said the SNP would take part in cross-party talks if she was able to confirm “that the extension of article 50, a ruling out of a no-deal Brexit and the option of a second EU referendum would form the basis of those discussions”.
With just five days to go before May must make a statement to parliament setting out her Brexit plan B, Downing Street continued to indicate that she was not ready to budge on her red lines, including membership of a customs union.
Conservative politicians are deeply divided about how May should adapt her deal to win over hostile MPs.
The South Cambridgeshire Tory MP, Heidi Allen, said: “I thought she was incredibly brave [after the Brexit defeat] and it felt like she got that we need to change. But today it was: ‘I’ll talk to people, but my red lines are still there.’ And that’s not going to work at all.
“Maybe the prime minister needs a little bit longer but she has got to reflect: stop pandering to the hard right of my party and start talking to those of us who have been working across parties for months. We’re a functioning, collaborative body already. She just needs to tap into us.”
Some cabinet ministers clearly indicated the need…