(CN) — Despite a dramatic failure to get her Brexit deal past Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday survived a vote of no confidence against her government brought by the opposition Labour Party.
But her narrow victory did little to quiet the chaos surrounding Britain's pending departure from the European Union and left May still at the helm of the tortuous deal-making over Brexit that has left Brits frustrated and disillusioned with their political leaders.
The close vote count – 325-306 in favor of May’s government – was not a surprise given the sharp ideological and political divides that have emerged as Britain debates whether and how to leave the EU. Other confidence votes in May's government are possible in the coming days.
Generally, those on the right favor leaving the EU while those on the left do not want to leave or want to keep Britain closely aligned to the EU.
The vote divided along these lines: Conservatives voted to keep May in No. 10 Downing Street and her opponents sought to bring about a new general election.
There are 317 Conservative Party Parliament members and their votes were propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 Parliament members. May's government relies on the DUP, a Northern Irish right-wing and socially conservative Protestant party that is pushing for a clear break from the EU.
On the other side, Labour has 256 members and they were joined by a number of smaller parties in voting against May. Those parties are the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, a Welsh party, and one Green Party member. Sinn Fein, the Roman Catholic party in Northern Ireland, has seven members in Parliament but they do not participate in its proceedings.
On Tuesday, May suffered a historic defeat when Parliament rejected her deal with the EU laying out the foundations for a future relationship with the bloc.
That vote left Europe and Britain rattled by the aftershocks of political instability gripping Britain and the uncertainty about its relationship with the EU.
May’s deal was meant to lay the foundations for the economic, political and social relationship between Britain and the EU. Now it is far from certain what will happen.
On Wednesday, May appeared to be unwilling to consider Labour's views in new negotiations over Brexit. Instead, she met with DUP leaders and her government said it would not consider aligning Britain with EU customs rules, as Labour has called for.
But after the no-confidence vote, May said she would meet with other parties to discuss the way forward. She is expected to lay out her new plans for Brexit on Monday.
Britain is slated to leave the EU on March 29, but that deadline may be extended due to the uncertain and very fluid political atmosphere now buffeting Britain. Brits voted to leave the EU in the so-called Brexit referendum in 2016.
On Wednesday, European leaders warned that the rejection of May’s deal heightened the possibility that Britain could leave the EU without a deal — a prospect many dread as economically catastrophic.
At a meeting of the European Parliament, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned that the risk of Britain leaving without a deal had grown.
“We are fearing more than ever the risk of a no-deal,” Barnier said.
European leaders said they were stepping up preparations to handle such a scenario. Britain, too, is getting ready for a dramatic breakup. But many political observers believe this is unlikely to happen given the wide-ranging ramifications of Britain leaving without a deal.
If Britain exits the EU without an agreement, the fear is that it would cause widespread disruption and confusion. Under this scenario, customs checks and tariffs might be imposed between Britain and the EU, leading to delays in everything from shipments of medicine to airplane flights. Exiting without a deal could disrupt supply chains, throw into doubt the residency of millions of people and bring back border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.