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  1. ITV Report

May not expecting 'immediate breakthrough' in crunch EU talks

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent James Mates

Theresa May is "not expecting an immediate breakthrough" in crunch talks with the EU, as she seeks fresh concessions for her Brexit deal after winning a no-confidence vote by Conservative MPs.

The prime minister returned to Brussels to address EU leaders at the two-day European Council after seeing off rebels who attempted to remove her from the party leadership, winning by 200 votes to 117 in a secret ballot.

She is hoping to make progress on the Northern Irish backstop question, with many of those MPs opposed to her deal concerned the temporary safety net could be implemented permanently, effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.

She also confirmed she will not lead the Conservative Party into the next general election - but declined to put a date on her departure, appearing to suggest her promise applies to the next scheduled election in June 2022.

That leaves a question mark over whether she would stand down if an early vote is called.

She told reporters in Brussels she doesn't expect "an immediate breakthrough" on concessions from the EU.

"I recognise the strength of concern in the House of Commons, and that's what I will be putting to colleagues today", she said.

"I don't expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary."

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the EU would be keen to "offer explanations, assurances, clarifications" on the agreement, but insisted: "The backstop is not on the table".

Meanwhile back at home, Theresa May's spokesperson has confirmed there not be a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal in Parliament before Christmas.

The prime minister delayed the vote, which was scheduled for 11 December, after it became clear she would not win.

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Brexiteers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg repeated demands for the Prime Minister to quit as Tory leader, insisting the vote showed she had lost the confidence of more than a third of her MPs and a majority of backbenchers.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told reporters outside his home "given the likelihood of any changes to the deal, given the likely scale of opposition, it looks very difficult to see how this Prime Minister can lead us forward".

However, loyalists hit back, with one minister comparing members of the hardline European Research Group to ants surviving a nuclear holocaust.

After a day of drama in Westminster, she still faces the same dilemma before it all took place: how to convince the EU to tweak the Withdrawal Agreement so that it will be passed by Parliament.

Speaking in Downing Street moments after the result was announced, Mrs May acknowledged that a “significant” number of her MPs had voted against her and said: “I have listened to what they said.”

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And she said she and her administration had a “renewed mission”, saying: “Following this ballot, we now need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country.”

She said this must involve “politicians of all sides coming together and acting in the national interest”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said the PM should still resign. Credit: PA

But she had earlier sowed the seeds for her eventual departure by telling Tory MPs at a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee that she would not lead the party into the next general election, expected in 2022.

According to MPs present at the meeting, she also promised to find a “legally binding solution” to ensuring that the UK does not get permanently trapped in a backstop arrangement to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

The scale of this task was highlighted by Irish premier Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who insisted in a phone call as MPs voted that the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement “cannot be reopened or contradicted”.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met Mrs May shortly before the ballot, insisted that “tinkering around the edges” of the agreement would not be enough to win her party’s support for the deal.

Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up the minority Conservative administration, said she told the PM that “we were not seeking assurances or promises, we wanted fundamental legal text changes”.

  • Watch the moment the result of the no-confidence vote was announced:

Immediately after the vote result was announced by 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady, she faced calls to resign from Brexit-backing MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said that she had lost the confidence of more than one-third of her MPs and a majority of backbenchers.

Mr Rees-Mogg told ITV News that the result of the vote was "terrible" for Mrs May and she should resign.

He said the "payroll vote" of ministers, parliamentary aides and trade envoys all likely to have backed Mrs May meant that a majority of the remaining 160 to 170 backbenchers voted no confidence in her.

The hardline European Research Group (ERG) vowed to continue opposing Mrs May’s “disastrous” Brexit deal, with a spokesman warning: “The parliamentary arithmetic remains unchanged.”

And the ERG's deputy chair, Steve Baker, told ITV's Peston show that the result of the no-confidence vote was the "worst possible" outcome.

It was Mrs May’s decision to pull a vote on her deal in the face of what she acknowledged would have been a heavy defeat earlier this week which sparked a new wave of letters of no confidence from Tories, triggering the challenge to her position.

  • What now for Theresa May?

Mrs May’s victory in the confidence vote means that another challenge cannot be mounted against her position as Tory leader for a year.

But she still faces the danger of a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons, which could bring her Government down if backed by more than half of all MPs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the “dismal” deal should be put before MPs next week.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell hinted that Labour could call the motion next week if Mrs May does not get changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that it wants, telling ITV’s Peston: “We will just have to judge what she comes back with on Sunday night, Monday morning, see what the statement is in the House of Commons on Monday and take a proper judgment then.”