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UK's weakened government passes first vote since election

Associated Press logo Associated Press 28/06/2017 By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) © The Associated Press British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON — Britain's Conservative minority government passed its first test in Parliament since an election wiped out its majority, with lawmakers Wednesday narrowly rejecting an opposition demand for an end to public spending cuts.

The House of Commons voted 323 to 309 against a call by the main opposition Labour Party for a pay raise for public-sector workers and the reversal of cuts to police and firefighting budgets.

The vote was the first faced by the government in Parliament since the June 8 election. It came after several days of debate on last week's Queen's Speech, which laid out the weakened government plans for the next two years.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government defeated Labour's proposal with support from the 10 lawmakers of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party.

In a deal reached this week, the Democratic Unionists agreed to back the Tories on key votes and May agreed to provide more than 1 billion pounds in new funds to Northern Ireland.

Public employee wages and salaries have been capped during seven years of austerity measures.

Labour's motion called on the government "to recruit more police officers and firefighters ... end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said recent disasters and deadly attacks in the country proved "you can't have safety and security on the cheap."

"It is plain to see that seven years of cuts to our emergency services has made us less safe," he said. "It's time to make a change."

The Conservatives have slashed public spending since 2010 in an attempt to reduce Britain's deficit, introducing cuts to welfare benefits and reducing the funds local authorities use to pay for key services.

Weariness with austerity was a factor driving voters in this month's early general election away from the Conservatives and toward Labour, which promised during the election campaign to boost spending.

The election left the Conservatives several votes short of a parliamentary majority and severely undermined the authority of May, who called the snap vote in a misjudged attempt to increase her grip on power ahead of Brexit negotiations.

Wednesday's narrow win is likely to be the first of many nail-biting votes for the Conservatives, who hold 317 of the 650 House of Commons seats, nine short of an outright majority.

The Democratic Unionists have agreed to support the government on key bills, including confidence motions and votes related to Britain's exit from the EU. But the backing — pledged after the government promised more than 1 billion pounds ($1.29 billion) in new spending in Northern Ireland — does not apply to other issues.

That means May and her team will have to seek allies if they are to pass legislation and remain in office.

In a possible sign of compromise, ministers suggested Wednesday they might ease up on austerity and lift the wage cap that has limited public sector pay increases to as little as 1 percent a year.

Treasury chief Philip Hammond said the Conservatives were "not deaf" to the message delivered by the election.

May faces another test Thursday, when lawmakers are due to vote on whether to approve the government's legislative program.

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