Theresa May has been accused of ‘running scared’ of Jeremy Corbyn after she refused to allow all MPs a vote of confidence in her premiership and her handling of Brexit.
The prime minister rejected the move despite claims that it could unite the Tory party and her DUP allies in the face of growing calls for a general election.
On yet another day of high drama at Westminster, government sources confirmed that parliamentary time would not be granted to allow the vote to take place on Tuesday.
The vote, which would have been non-binding, but is part of a wider effort by Labour to ramp up the pressure on May less than a week after 117 of her own MPs – a third of her party – declared she should be replaced as Tory leader.
Labour Party chair Ian Lavery told HuffPost UK: “The prime minister has spent the last week running away from parliament. She pulled the vote last week, promising to go back to Brussels to get a better deal. She failed.
“Today with nothing new to say, she underestimated the mood of parliament. It is clear that members on all sides of the House want a meaningful vote straight away on her botched Brexit deal, yet she continues to show contempt for parliament.
“With even her cabinet in open rebellion and collective responsibility all but abandoned, she is now running scared of Labour’s vote of no confidence.”
With just three days until the Commons rises for its Christmas break, the vote would have been a test of opinion of both pro and anti-Brexit critics of the PM, as well as the DUP.
But Downing Street sources made clear it felt the PM thought the move by Corbyn was a “stunt”. “We are not playing silly games,” a No.10 spokesman said.
The Tories in turn tried to turn the tables on Labour, daring the opposition to escalate its campaign and call for a formal, binding motion of confidence in the government itself – a move that is aimed at triggering a general election.
Labour will have to decide on Tuesday whether to ramp up its Parliamentary tactics, but it is understood to be a matter of ‘when not if’ the party opts to table a formal confidence vote.
Party activists and MPs have been demanding that Corbyn exhausts all options to trigger a general election, before then calling for a second Brexit referendum in line with policy agreed at Labour conference this autumn
Shadow Chief Whip Nick Brown told a weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday evening that the party would swiftly switch to a confidence vote in the government itself if ministers refused to grant Commons time for a personal vote on the PM.
“He said that if the Tories don’t agree to the confidence vote in May then we will table a no confidence motion in the government, which under the Fixed Term Parliament Act does have to be taken,” one MP told HuffPost.
Asked if the escalation to a full confidence motion would be immediate, Brown told MPs it would.
But shadow cabinet minister Barry Gardiner told Channel 4 News Labour’s tactics were “about escalating pressure incrementally”.
The DUP signalled they would back May in the vote and Brexiteers’ European Research Group also put out a statement offering support.
“ERG members will of course be voting with the government on this meaningless Labour motion,” they said.
Earlier, the Labour leader announced his no confidence move after the prime minister told MPs the ‘meaningful vote’ on her Brexit deal would be delayed until the week beginning January 14.
On yet another day of heated debate, MPs had erupted with anger at the PM pushing back debate on her faltering withdrawal plans until after Christmas.
Corbyn raised a point of order in the Commons after May had updated MPs on Brexit negotiations for more than two-and-a-half hours.
“I have listened very carefully to what members on all sides of the house have said and it is very clear that it is very bad, unacceptable, that we should be waiting almost a month before we have a meaningful vote on a crucial issue facing the future of this country,” he said.
“As the only way I can think of of ensuring a vote takes place this week I am about to table a motion which says the following:
“That this house has no confidence in the prime minister due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away on the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relationships between the UK and the European Union and that will be table immediately.”
Without waiting for Speaker Bercow to respond to the point of order, the PM left the chamber quickly.
Other Opposition parties tabled amendments to Labour’s motion, to try to turn into a full-blown confidence motion that could trigger an election.