May won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party, with Tory members of Parliament backing her by 200 to 117 in the secret ballot.
While the result ensures that May’s enemies can’t try again to oust her as party leader for at least a year, it also shows that more than one in three of her own colleagues do not want her to be prime minister to begin with.
The pound, which had risen in advance of the vote, pared gains.
“Whilst I’m grateful for that support, a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me, and I’ve listened to what they’ve said,” May told television cameras outside her 10 Downing Street office.
In a private meeting with her critics, she confessed emotionally that deep down she knew that she would not be leading them into the next election in 2022, according to people in the room. Her plea was to be allowed to steer the UK through Brexit.
“She said that in her heart she’d love to fight the next election, but she knows that she can’t,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News. “She was quite emotional about that.” Another Cabinet minister, who declined to be named, said May’s gambit was a necessary compromise to reassure her critics that she won’t go on and on as leader.
While May’s immediate future is now secured, it is likely to be only a temporary reprieve for the embattled premier. She is facing hardened opposition in Parliament to the Brexit agreement she negotiated with the European Union, and her attempts to get better terms have not yielded any results.
“It doesn’t matter that she’s won,” stated pro-Brexit Tory Marcus Fysh. “She can’t command the DUP and that leads to a vote of confidence in the government, a near-term general election,” he added, referring to the smaller Northern Irish party that props up May’s government.
“We’re not going to back her deal, so in practice she can’t carry on,” Fysh concluded.
If May cannot get her exit terms through Parliament, the UK will be on course for a no-deal Brexit, risking economic and political upheaval.
The main opposition Labour Party is weighing up whether to push for a general election by triggering a formal vote of no confidence in the government.