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Recap: UK leadership spill

December 16, 2018

Given that we’ve had eight of them over the last eight years, you’ve probably become quite familiar with the term “leadership spill” in the context of Australian politics.


Last Thursday, the British Parliament also faced a major leadership spill when members of the Conservative Party challenged the leadership of the PM, Theresa May.


So, what sparked the spill? What was the result, and what does it now mean for the UK?


The backstory: Brexit

Two years ago, the people of the United Kingdom (which, fyi, includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) voted to leave the European Union.


Essentially, the EU is a group of 28 European countries that have agreed to work together politically and economically. Since 1993, trade barriers between EU countries have decreased significantly, making the flow of people, goods and money within the region much easier. On the whole, the economic benefits have been shared.


However, in recent years, economic problems in southern Europe made some Brits feel as if the UK was being weighed down by poorly performing economies. Plus, the immigration crisis in Europe - the question of whether or not Syrian refugees should be accepted - divided Europeans and Brits. 


So, if we generalise, we can divide the British public into two camps:

  • Conservatives are in favour of Brexit (which comes from combining the words ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’), and more or less want to leave behind the binding ties to the EU.

  • In the other camp, we’ve got liberals (small ‘l’ liberals - not the same as the Liberal Party of Australia) who are generally against Brexit and prefer the spirit of international cooperation. They believe that the economic costs of leaving the EU will be greater than the benefits. 

In 2016, the British public voted to leave the EU. But it didn’t happen straight away. Brexit is a big move that can’t just happen at the snap of someone’s fingers. It needs to follow a long process of negotiation and drafting to work out how exactly it will leave in order to actually benefit Britain politically and economically.


Theresa May, who is the leader of the Conservative Party currently in power, is facing opposition from the more conservative elements of her own party, because of the way she is negotiating Britain’s break from the EU.


The ‘no confidence’ vote (spoiler: she survives)

The more conservative elements of May’s ruling party believe that the compromises are a betrayal of the British people who voted to leave Europe. They see it as being too “soft” of an exit.


So, Conservative politicians who were unhappy with the way she was handling Brexit, decided to challenge her leadership of the party through a no confidence vote.


Essentially, this means that if 153 MPs from her party were to vote against her, she'd no longer be the leader of her party, or the Prime Minister, and the party would go to another vote to elect a new PM. 


The final count was 200 votes in favour of the PM and 117 against. Basically, May is safe, for now.


What does this mean?

It means that her party can’t challenge her leadership of the party for another twelve months. May will lead Britain through its formal exit from the EU in March of next year. Without a doubt, it will be a historically momentous event, and if all goes well, May will be remembered as having concluded the most complex and significant negotiations for Britain since WWII. 


But it goes without saying, there's a lot of work still to be done. 



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