Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May won a crucial vote of confidence in her leadership of the ruling Conservative Party over the controversial Brexit deal, after she placated rebel lawmakers by agreeing that she would step down before the 2022 general election.
Though she won the backing of her party to stay on as prime minister, more than a third of Conservative MPs voted against her, underscoring the uphill battle she faces in getting her Brexit deal through Parliament.
In the secret vote held Wednesday night, May secured 63 per cent votes with 200 in favour of her and 117 against, out of a total of 317 of her Conservative Party MPs.
May, who has been prime minister since the UK voted to leave the 28-member European Union (EU) in June, 2016, is now immune from a leadership challenge for at least a year.
The vote of confidence was triggered by 48 of her MPs angry at her Brexit policy, which they say betrays the 2016 referendum result.
"Following this ballot, we now need to get on with the job of delivering the Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country. A Brexit that delivers on the vote of the people," 62-year-old May said in a statement outside Downing Street soon after the results were declared.
The verdict of the confidence vote was formally announced by Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee made up of Tory backbenchers, who revealed that the Parliamentary Party "does have confidence in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party".
May, in her address to MPs before they began voting, said that she had listened to all their criticism and confirmed that she would only hang on to Downing Street to see Brexit through before stepping down. This would mean she would not lead the party into the next General Election, scheduled for 2022. "She was very clear that she won't be taking the General Election in 2022," said UK work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.
The plea seemed to have paid off in the end as she survived the vote, turning the attention back to securing a Brexit deal that is acceptable to all sides of her deeply divided party as well as a fractured Parliament.
No quick breakthrough
Later in Brussels, Prime Minister May confirmed she would step down before the 2022 general election.
"I don't expect an immediate breakthrough (in talks with the EU) but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary," she said as she arrived for talks with the 27 other EU leaders to try to find a way to make the Brexit deal agreeable to the British MPs. May’s government will put her Brexit deal to a vote in parliament, according to her spokesperson, as soon as possible in January, and definitely before January 21.
EU leaders were clear. They all said they needed to know exactly what May wanted to secure in Brussels but also warned that Britain could not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.
While others tried to temper their language by expressing a desire to help May, French President Emmanuel Macron was blunt. “We can have a political discussion tonight, but the legal framework and the agreement that were negotiated are not supposed to change,” he told reporters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was less strident, saying: “We can of course talk about whether there are additional assurances but in this the 27 EU members are together and will make their interests clear, although always in the spirit that we want very, very good relations with Great Britain after Great Britain has left the European Union.”