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17 December 2018

Jeremy Corbyn is taking a risk by pressing forward with a confidence vote in Theresa May

It will be easier for those MPs who want a clearer position from Labour over Brexit to press their case once the vote is over and done with.

By Stephen Bush

Here we go: Jeremy Corbyn will table a vote of confidence in Theresa May as Prime Minister.

Unlike a full-blooded motion of no confidence, this has no legal force, would not bring down the government and the government has no obligation to find legislative time for it, meaning that Labour could have to wait for its next opposition day debate to vote it through. The party has no opposition day debates left for 2018 and its allocation for 2019 is not yet scheduled. Though by convention May ought to resign if she loses, something that the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee recently underlined, May has repeatedly flouted unwritten conventions as Prime Minister and would in all probability do the same now.

As I explained earlier, all of these procedural moves are about servicing the part of Labour’s coalition that feels that the opposition must now take immediate action on a vote of no confidence in the government and a move to a second referendum. I still think that the Labour leadership has got everything they needed out of even the threat of scheduling one, but they feel they have more to gain from actually following through.

On the plus side for Corbyn, it will drain further oxygen from the Labour leadership’s internal critics and those who want to expedite the party’s movement towards supporting a second referendum and play well among the membership over the coming days. (The actual debate, whenever it happens, will also be a useful source of critical clips about the government for social media.)  

But I don’t see what Labour gains from actually following through. We know that the chances of it passing are slim as the DUP has said it won’t play, though some of May’s critics in the Conservative Party might vote for it out of pique. But we also know that May will ignore any vote of no confidence, as that is what Theresa May does with parliamentary conventions.

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At that point, those in the Labour Party arguing that Labour has no hope of passing a vote of no confidence in the government and that it is time for the opposition to activate its contingency plan aka supporting another referendum will have a very strong argument. Many of these MPs were despondent about their prospects for forcing through this change – they may just have got a big shot in the arm.

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