British PM Theresa May survives first major test in Parliament
British Prime Minister Theresa May today won her first confidence vote by a narrow margin in the House of Commons on her parliamentary agenda set out in the Queen's Speech, her first major test as the PM of a minority government in the UK. The MPs voted in favour of the Queen's Speech by 323 votes to 309 with a majority of 14.
May was expected to sail through with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) voting with the Conservatives as part of a "confidence and supply" arrangement after the Tories lost their overall majority in the June 8 snap general election. Votes on the Queen's Speech establish whether a government commands the confidence of the House of Commons.
If the Conservatives were to lose, it could trigger another general election and therefore the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP )support was crucial to ensure the vote goes through. Under the deal with the DUP, May has a working majority of 13, which also helped her win her first vote in the Commons on Wednesday 323 votes to 309 on Opposition Labour’s proposal to scrap a cap imposed on public sector pay.
In what is being hailed as a new kind of politics in Westminster circles, backbench MPs won their fight to allow women from Northern Ireland to access abortions on the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS). More than 50 MPs from the major political parties had backed a call for Northern Irish women to have the same rights as women in England because in Northern Ireland abortions are only allowed if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.
An amendment on the issue which had cross-party backing, had been selected for inclusion in the Queen's Speech debate. During the debate in the Commons on Thursday, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond was asked by the Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, why, in the case of women from Northern Ireland, "only the poor should be denied lawful abortions".
Sir Peter was among MPs from various parties to sign the amendment, co-ordinated by Labour's Stella Creasy. Hammond told him that Justine Greening, the UK’s minister for women and equalities, "either has made or is just about to make an announcement by way of a letter to members of this house explaining that she intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland".
Following the concession from the UK government, the other amendments to be debated and voted on included a call for several of Labour's manifesto pledges to be adopted, plus one to ensure that Brexit delivers the "exact same benefits" of the current European Union (EU) single market and customs union membership.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hoped to highlight apparent divisions within the Conservative ranks over whether to put jobs and the economy first in Brexit talks. The party tabled the amendment criticising what it says is the absence of measures to "reverse falling living standards" such as action on energy bills and wages. Corbyn claims that May has no mandate for continued austerity measures after she failed to win an outright majority at the last election.
"The Conservative programme is in tatters following the public verdict at the general election. Theresa May does not have a mandate for continued cuts to our schools, hospitals, police and other vital public services or for a race-to-the-bottom Brexit. Labour will fight these policies every step of the way," he said.
Another amendment was tabled by Labour MP Chuka Umunna, which calls for the UK to remain in the single market and customs union after Brexit – which is not in line with the Labour's official stand.
May faced a hectic schedule on Thursday as she rushed back from a summit in Germany in time for the parliamentary proceedings in the UK. In Berlin, May joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to discuss plans for the G20 summit in Hamburg next week and how to put pressure on US President Donald Trump over his refusal to sign up to the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as the stalled trade deal between America and the European Union (EU).