Theresa May hangs on - but how long will she stay in Downing Street?
- Credit: PA
Theresa May has won the confidence vote on her leadership of the Conservatives – but has promised MPs she will not lead the party into the next General Election.
She won the vote by 200 votes to 117 – not a massive victory but to have so many Conservative MPs voting against her was seen as a major blow to her authority.
And her opponents in the party immediately called for her to step down – Jacob Rees Mogg told the BBC that she should arrange to see The Queen to hand in her resignation on Thursday.
Speaking in Downing Street after the vote, Mrs May said: “This has been a long and challenging day, but at the end of it I’m pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues in tonight’s ballot.
“Whilst I’m grateful for that support, a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me, and I have listened to what they said.
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“Following this ballot we need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country.”However loyalist MPs were insisting that the victory would allow Mrs May to carry on with negotiations over the withdrawal from the EU.
Remain-supporting former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan tweeted: “Sense has prevailed - the Conservative Parliamentary Party does have confidence in Theresa May – the 48 do not speak for the silent majority in the Party or in the country.”
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During the day it became clear that Mrs May would get enough support to remain at the head of the party – by the time the meeting of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee started 170 of her MPs had stated their support for her. She needed 159 to win the vote.
Mrs May told the meeting that she accepted she would not be able to lead the party into the next election.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland told reporters outside the meeting: “She said ‘in my heart I would like to lead the party into the next election’ and then that was the introductory phrase to her indication that she would accept the fact that that would not happen, that is not her intention.”
That seems likely to have satisfied some of her MPs who were anxious to see new blood at the top – but did not think it was a good move to ditch their leader three months before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.
But in the end the vote was closer than many had expected earlier in the day – although she did get enough votes to carry on for the next few months at least. There is already speculation she could resign in the middle of 2019 and allow the party to choose a new Prime Minister.
Every Suffolk Conservative MP was quick to confirm their support for the Prime Minister – by mid-morning all had made public statements of support for Mrs May.
Within minutes of confirmation that the 48-letter threshold had been crossed, West Suffolk MP and Health Secretary Matt Hancock put up a Tweet saying: “I’m voting for the Prime Minister tonight and urge all colleagues to do the same. We should all be focussed on coming together for the sake of the future of the country.”
Waveney MP Peter Aldous was confident about the result from the start: “I will be supporting her, and I would be absolutely staggered if she failed to get the votes she needs tonight.
“Obviously the size of the vote will be important but I am confident she will be able to continue with the very important talks and votes over the next few months.”
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said: “The Prime Minister continues to retain my confidence. I shall certainly be voting for her tonight.”
There were also tweets of support for Mrs May from Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill, a government whip, James Cartlidge, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Suffolk Coastal MP and environment minister Dr Therese Coffey.
In Essex the mood was more mixed – although Mrs May did get support from most MPs in the county.
One notable opponent is North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin who sent in one of the letters that triggered the no confidence vote.
In a Tweet, he dismissed claims that the attempt to unseat the Prime Minister in the middle of Brexit talks was not good timing. He said: “The UK changed Prime Minister in May 1940 – in the middle of a monstrously greater national crisis than this. If it has to be done, it has to be done.”
Maldon MP and former cabinet minister John Wittingdale also backed the bid to unseat the Prime Minister, but Colchester MP Will Quince and Braintree’s James Cleverly, who is a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, gave support for Mrs May.
Mr Cleverly was involved in one of the more bizarre incidents of the day during a BBC interview with him and fellow Tory Andrew Bridgen – one of Mrs May’s fiercest critics.
Mr Bridgen stormed off to avoid having to debate the issue with his own party’s deputy chairman!