UK Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence triggered by members of her own party over her handling of Britain’s departure from the European Union, but her margin of victory was significantly narrower than her supporters expected.
May won by 200 votes to 117, meaning that a third of her parliamentary party failed to back her. The size of the rebellion underscored the daunting task faced by the Prime Minister if she is to secure approval in a divided House of Commons for her imperiled Brexit deal.
Outside Downing Street, May admitted that it had been a “long and challenging day.”
May said while she was “grateful” for the support, she also acknowledged that a “significant” number of number of MPs from her party voted against her. “I have listened to what they said,” May said, but added “we now need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit.”
She said she now had a “renewed mission – delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone.”
May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for a meeting of European leaders. She will try to convince them that the only way to win backing for her deal is to give legally enforceable guarantees surrounding the Irish backstop – the insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Voting by secret ballot began at 6 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) Wednesday after May made her final pitch to lawmakers promising them she wouldn’t fight the next general election in 2022. A pro-May MP told CNN the Prime Minister “got a real grilling, but overall solid support” as she made her case to MPs.
The result gives her 12 months of breathing space from her own party, because Conservative Party rules state another such vote cannot be held for a year. But her supporters acknowledged that her authority was dented.
Shortly after the announcement, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “Huge congrats to Theresa May whose stamina, resilience and decency has again won the day and given her the chance to deliver Brexit for our country.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond also tweeted and said Wednesday night’s result was “the right one.”
“Now is the the time to focus on the future,” he said. “Her deal means we will honor the referendum result while safeguarding jobs and maintaining business confidence.”
May’s 83-vote margin of victory means more than a third of Conservative MPs voted against her as PM.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – who led the rebellion against May – said the result was a “terrible” outcome for May. He added that “she ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign.”
Speaking outside Parliament, Conservative MP Stephen Crabb said May must now win over MPs who voted against her, which will be “hugely challenging.”
“It seems there isn’t a majority in the House of Commons at the moment for any solution to Brexit – not for a second referendum, not for a Norway-style deal, not for her deal,” Crabb said, according to Britain’s Press Association. “But Parliament has to say yes to something and she has been given a new mandate to get on and find that something.”
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “Her government is in chaos.” He added that May “must now bring her dismal deal back to the House of Commons next week so Parliament can take back control.
“Labour is ready to govern for the whole country and deliver a deal that protects living standards and workers’ rights,” Corbyn said.
The problem for May now, however, is that this result does not make the reality of her situation any more palatable.
The biggest challenge she faces is that she is stuck between a UK Parliament that will not vote through her Brexit deal and the European Union, which will not reopen negotiations on that deal.
The confidence vote coincided with May’s whistle-stop tour of Europe where she met with key EU leaders, asking them for help passing her Brexit deal through Parliament.
May was forced to postpone a vote on the deal on Monday when it became clear her bill would face a humiliating defeat.