Theresa May, U.K. prime minister. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Why Theresa May Is Facing a U.K. Confidence Vote (and How It Works)

(Bloomberg) -- The nation that gave the world parliamentary democracy is confronting the system’s most dramatic act: a vote to throw the government out of office. In the U.K.’s House of Commons, no-confidence votes test whether the government still commands support from a majority of lawmakers, and there’s no limit to how many times an opposition leader can propose one. It’s the way to trigger a general election, offering a path to power for Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist Labour Party.

1. How will the no-confidence vote work?

There’s a plan for a debate, followed by a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday at 7 p.m. local time to determine if a majority of lawmakers still support U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. Every member of Parliament takes part. May doesn’t have a majority and relies on the 10 lawmakers of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her government. The DUP is enraged by her Brexit plan, so it’s not a given they would support her.

2. What happens if May wins?

We return to the Brexit wrangling. There are no rules on when the next no-confidence vote can be held, so successive challenges are possible.

3. What happens if she loses?

The clock starts ticking. The law governing this process only passed in 2011, and this process has never been tested before. The only thing that’s clear is that Parliament has 14 days to find a government that can pass a confidence vote. May’s Conservative Party, as the largest, has the first chance to try to do this, but Labour can also try to win support. Or in the current extraordinary circumstances, some sort of cross-party alliance for a soft Brexit might be formed. If no government can win a vote in that time, Parliament is said to be "dissolved" and a general election is scheduled.

4. Would she resign?

Not necessarily. She could try to persuade lawmakers who hadn’t voted for her government to come to her side.

5. When was the last time this happened?

In 1979, the Labour government lost a no-confidence vote by one vote, triggering an election that brought Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to power.

6. Didn’t we have a no-confidence vote in December?

That was a different kind. The Brexit deal May struck to leave the European Union is so loathed within the Conservative Party that her own lawmakers triggered a leadership challenge to try to topple her from the top of the party and the premiership. She survived by a vote of 200 to 117 in a secret ballot on Dec. 12. In the U.K., the leader of the ruling party is the prime minister. Under party rules, she can’t be challenged again as party leader for a year.

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