Theresa May has won a vote of no confidence, after making a last-minute pledge to her MPs not to take the Conservatives into the next general election.
In a day of tense political drama at Westminster, 317 Conservative MPs cast their vote on whether to back the prime minister, with her needing a simple majority to prevail.
In the end, she won the ballot by 200 votes to 117.
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But the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said the result was “not at all comfortable” for the prime minister and dealt a “real blow” to her authority.
Under party rules, it means May cannot face another leadership challenge for at least another year, though she has been forced to put a time-limit on her own premiership to achieve it.
Making her final pitch to backbenchers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee before yesterday’s vote, May told MPs that she would not fight a general election in 2022.
“As for what might happen if there were an election before 2022, on that she was non-committal,” says The Guardian, “so, if there were to be an early election, it is possible she could still seek to lead her party into it.”
Confusion over the timeline for her departure emerged even before the results had been declared, with some MPs signaling it meant a promise to stand down once Brexit has been delivered next year.
Describing the result as “terrible” for the prime minister, arch Brexiteer and leading Tory rebel Jacob Rees-Mogg said May had “hedged her bets” on whether she would fight the next election.
“She said that in her heart she would like to fight the 2022 election, but that she recognised the party did not want her to, and therefore it was not her intention to. But the word ‘intention’ is a classic politician’s word, because intentions can change,” he said.
Although May refused to give a date for when she will step down, “the announcement fired the starting gun on a race to succeed her, with several Cabinet ministers already well advanced with their plans”, says The Daily Telegraph.
Support for her leadership will not necessarily translate to support for her Brexit proposal in the Commons.
Knowing she is safe for at least another year, “European leaders will have some confidence that May has a political tailwind behind her to get approval for the withdrawal agreement — if changes can be made that she can live with,” says Oliver Wright at The Times.
However, “the parliamentary sums don’t change on her current planned agreement with the EU”, says Kuenssberg at the BBC, adding: “The cabinet, let alone the rest of the Commons, won’t give their backing.”
Today, May is heading to Brussels for an EU summit in hope of obtaining legally binding assurances on the Irish backstop, but EU leaders have already warned that they will not renegotiate any points of the deal.
Kuenssberg concludes that the prime minister has therefore been left with “less time in office, less authority, and with no credible Brexit policy - and now, even more to do”.
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