Jeremy Corbyn abandoned a threat to oust Theresa May less than an hour after making it as the prime minister announced that MPs would vote on her Brexit deal next month – before tabling a confidence vote anyway.
The Labour leader had planned to tell May in his response to her Commons statement on Monday that he would table a no confidence motion in her unless she set a date for the already-delayed vote.
May revealed in her opening remarks that MPs will be given a say the week beginning January 14, forcing Corbyn to omit the passage on a confidence vote that his team had briefed to reporters less than an hour earlier.
But the Labour leader tabled a motion anyway, in a point of order raised in the Commons after the PM had been speaking on Brexit for 90 minutes.
Labour claimed its initial briefing had forced May to bring the deal, which faces fierce opposition from MPs, back to the Commons.
But a Number 10 source said she had decided on a date “some time” before the statement and described Labour’s claims as “sadly incorrect”.
The source also confirmed Corbyn’s team received an advance copy of the statement at around 3pm – just minutes after Labour briefed the confidence vote threat.
The Labour motion does not seek to trigger a general election by expressing no confidence in the government, a move which Tories would have been unlikely to support and therefore appeared doomed to failure.
Instead it is specifically designed to remove May as PM by expressing no confidence in her, coming after the Commons constitutional watchdog said last week that she could be ousted without triggering an election.
In his response to the statement, Corbyn said the “cold reality” was May achieved “nothing” last week after returning to Brussels to seek further assurances over the Irish border backstop.
He also claimed the PM was “cynically” running down the clock on the March 29 Brexit deadline to force MPs to decide between her deal or no deal, and asked the PM to confirm if her deal has cabinet confidence.
There can be no logical reason for this delay except that in taking shambolic government to a new level, the prime minister no longer has the backing of her cabinet.Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
“We face an unprecedented situation – the prime minister has led us into a national crisis,” he said.
“If any more evidence was needed of why we face this grave situation, the prime minister demonstrated it at last week’s summit.
“There were some warm words drafted and the prime minister even managed to negotiate those away to be replaced by words about preparing for no deal.
“The deal is unchanged and not going to change. The House must get on with the vote and move on to consider the realistic alternatives.
“There can be no logical reason for this delay except that in taking shambolic government to a new level, the prime minister no longer has the backing of her cabinet.”