SATURDAY, JUNE 20, 5AM: Premier Dr. Ewart Brown this morning survived a move to oust him from power over his secret deal with the U.S to bring four former Guantanamo prisoners to Bermuda.

A vote of no confidence in his government failed to carry as PLP MPs stood by their man.

The Premier apologized for negative repercussions from his actions and stated that "no law was broken" and "no constitutional provision flagrantly violated."

But he stood firmly behind his decision to bring the Chinese Muslims to Bermuda and said this week's public protests against him had been politically motivated. In recent days, he said, he had been subjected to "a vicious campaign [by the UBP] to steal what they could not earn - the governance of this country." He described the protests as "a rally of UBP supporters full of rancour, hatred and disrespect like we have never seen before on this island."

He said he meant no disrespect to the U.K. or the Governor for lack of consultation and stated: "We have performed a humanitarian act that has been applauded around the world... History will be on our side because we have done what is right."

Dr. Brown added that by aligning Bermuda's interests with America, "we had been saying 'yes we can' instead of 'please sir, may I'?'"

The motion - tabled by Opposition Leader Kim Swan - went down by 22 votes to 11. The UBP's Mark Pettingill abstained and shadow sports minister Darius Tucker was not present for the vote. The Speaker did not vote.

The result notwithstanding, a handful of PLP figures are unhappy with the Premier's decision to allow the four Uighurs into the country without consulting Parliament or the Governor - one Cabinet Minister, Dale Butler, calling it "reprehensible."

(Mr Butler is understood to have resigned his position in the Cabinet in the aftermath of the debate.)

But they were reluctant to back a UBP move which, they feared, might have led to a general election.

The outcome does not signal an end to the debate over Dr. Brown's leadership. But party insiders say it's a matter they would prefer to deal with internally, and predict the Premier could face another challenge down the road.

Deputy Minister Paula Cox said the PLP had the necessary apparatus to deal with the issue of party leadership. "There is a way to do these things properly and this [motion] in my view is not the way. I can't support coming to this House to take out the PLP government," Ms Cox said. "The risk is too great of a possibility of a general election.

"This is not the time or place to have any lynching of the party leader."

As the debate wore on, the fact that very few PLP MPs spoke in support of Dr. Brown was increasingly conspicuous. Instead they rallied around the party and cited its achievements. A handful of PLP MPs had strong words of criticism for their leader and even though he survived tonight's vote, it's clear he has fences to mend.

In the end the PLP closed ranks, though it seems now that the wording of the motion might just have doomed it from the outset. The Constitutional requirement that it had to mention the government rather than solely target the Premier appears to have made it unpalatable to PLP dissidents whose support was crucial to its success. Some UBP MPs also conceded its flaws - Donte Hunt suggesting the Constitution should be amended.

Interpretations vary and some experts say that the vaguely worded motion that was under debate - 'the House has no confidence in the government led by the Premier' - if passed, would have left the Governor with little choice but to dissolve Parliament and go to the country.

Others, however, suggested the Governor would have had no reason to call a general election because neither party wanted it. (Senior UBP figures say the common sense response from the Governor would have been to tell MPs to come back to the House with a new leader drawn from the majority party, that is, the PLP).

In the end it was a moot point, with a vote in favour of the Premier finally coming in at 5am after a marathon debate in which MPs from both sides of the House talked at length on the issue.

Introducing the motion, Mr. Swan compared the Premier to footballer George Best, staying he wanted to keep the ball to himself instead of playing with the rest of the team.

"When you have famous sayings like 'we had to mislead you'... the mindset of 'we had to mislead you' [reminds me] what a tangled web we weave when we practice to mislead."

Mr. Swan said: "It was not the intention of the Opposition with this motion to do any harm to the government. It was our intention to address the leadership of the honourable Premier, the style of which has caused the country great harm."

Mr. Swan also criticized the Premier's "authoritarian, autocratic style," saying it had brought "great discomfort and great disquiet within the community."

Dr. Brown was present for the early part of the debate, looking relaxed, except on a couple of occasions when he challenged Mr. Swan's criticism of faith-based tourism and the controversy surrounding ad agency GlobalHue.

Former PLP Premier Alex Scott was critical of Dr. Brown's handling of the affair and talked about damage to the island's reputation overseas, suggesting that Internet searches of 'Bermuda' now generate thousands of references to terrorists. His was a strong but measured rebuke of the Premier that left listeners wondering whether he would vote against his party's leader or be satisfied with dressing him down in public.

Shadow finance minister Bob Richards said the premier's decision on the Uighurs would hurt tourism because Americans feared and loathed people from Guantanamo Bay and would vent their anger by cancelling vacations to Bermuda.

PLP Cabinet Minister Terry Lister said the motion was about whether MPs had confidence in the government - and proceeded, in a lengthy address, to list various government achievements in recent years.

Fellow PLP Wayne Perinchief, a former assistant commissioner of police who has been openly critical of the Premier, said the country was "on the cusp of spiralling into lawlessness" and emphasized the need to live by the rule of law.

"By the dictum of collective responsibility we are liable vicariously for the actions of our Premier," he said.

In an unexpected development early on in the debate, Speaker Stanley Lowe drew the attention of the House to a group of visiting Chinese business people in the public gallery.

Their representative, Mary Schack, told the Bermuda Sun that they were in Bermuda on a pre-arranged trip to forge tourism links and that the timing of their visit had nothing to do with the arrival here of the four Chinese Muslims. She told us the affair, in her view, will have no effect whatsoever on tourism and/or business connections between China and Bermuda.

PLP MP and former union boss Derrick Burgess injected a little humour into proceedings, talking about how Britain had left Bermuda to fend for itself on issues like offshore tax but was now furious about being kept out of the loop on the Gitmo Four. "They failed us, now they want to spank us," he quipped, urging the Brits to "show that they love this country".

He added that Bermuda is now in a stronger position than ever with regard to negotiating with the U.S. on issues such as the clean-up of the former U.S. naval base at Morgan's Point, tax, and the stop list [for convicted drug offenders].

Drawing a contrast between the Uighurs' peaceful presence on the island and recent gun crimes here, Mr. Burgess said: "These are four people who have been called terrorists but we have terrorists right in our streets - that's what we should be marching about."

For the UBP, Donte Hunt candidly spelt out the difficulty his party faced in framing a motion that would remove the Premier without dismantling the government. He admitted to the inadequacy of the motion, suggesting that the Constitution needed to be amended to allow the House to specifically address the leadership issue without involving the government in a no confidence motion.

But he asked PLP MPs to trust the Opposition in the spirit of the motion and its specific purpose of targeting the Premier, despite the fact that the wording made reference to the government: "I understand the wording is a hard pill to swallow but it's the only way we have to get across our intent.

"We are not trying to remove the government, the wording is the only tool we have to [remove the premier]."

In the end, the effort failed.

In a powerful speech, Cabinet Minister Dale Butler, whom few had expected to go against the Premier, had described Dr. Brown's actions as "reprehensible" and demanded an apology.

"I was absolutely stunned - I think we all were, that we were not informed [about the Gitmo Four]," Mr. Butler said. "I was like jeez, did I miss a meeting? The Premier should apologize to the House, to his Cabinet and the people of Bermuda. I saw him this morning [Friday] and I asked him to apologize and he didn't... I ask him now to do it, to come in here and apologize. I would like to accept an apology to govern that way I will vote."

Randy Horton, who has become a vocal critic of Dr. Brown since leaving the Cabinet, told the House: "I'm very disappointed in the manner in which our leader is leading the country right now and the manner in which he has disrespected members of our Parliament.

"I hope and pray that as a result of this debate that we're going to see a better man in the honourable Dr. Brown."

Whether his wish comes true, of course, remains to be seen.

A former UBP parliamentary candidate summed up events this way: "The UBP's underlying message here on this motion was 'it's ok to support this because we know no-one wants us as the Government.' They have in fact admitted that the UBP is less popular than Ewart. Which is quite an accomplishment.

"The UBP is simply not viable. If they're smart they'll use this failed motion and public sentiment for change as a springboard for a serious effort at a new party. The ones who want to break away should do it NOW. "

Another political observer, who followed the debate into the early hours, told us: "This was a dead certainty from the moment that The Royal Gazette, the Mid-Ocean and the UBP went through the usual super-bias, fear-mongering, dictatorship, pro-colonial routine. Until they learn that they are part of the problem, they give Brown a get out of jail free card no matter what the charge."