Theresa May has fought off a bid to topple her as prime minister, winning a Tory vote of confidence by 200 votes to 117.
After a day of high drama at Westminster, May defeated the challenge to her authority – but only after making an emotional pledge that she would not lead her party into the next general election.
Loyal MPs and cabinet ministers yelled their support when the result was announced by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservatives party’s 1922 committee, in the House of Commons.
Under party rules, she cannot be challenged again for another year, ensuring she will still be in charge when the UK quits the EU in March 2019.
The margin of victory - by 63% to 37% - underscored the scale of Tory MPs’ anger at her Brexit plans, seen as compromise on trade and other rights in an attempt to find an agreement with Brussels.
In a statement outside No.10 Downing Street, May admitted that “a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me and I’ve listened to what they’ve said”.
She vowed to find new “legal and political assurances” from Brussels to get a better deal.
And within minutes, the spin of the result began in earnest. Rebels said that failing to get the backing of a third of her party was a significant blow.
Lead Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said May should go to the Queen and tender her resignation. MP Peter Bone said it was clear she had failed to win a majority of backbenchers, pointing out that ministers and the ‘payroll vote’ amounted to more than 150 MPs.
May will have to move quickly to heal the deep wounds caused by the confidence vote, which was triggered on Wednesday morning when 48 backbenchers demanded her popularity should be formally tested.
She still faces a formidable challenge to get her Brexit proposals passed through the House of Commons, with a chunk of Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) forming a powerful blocking minority.
Having lost her parliamentary majority in last year’s snap election, May is propped up in power by the DUP’s 10 MPs.
Brexiteers told HuffPost UK she still faces the prospect of “guerrilla warfare” to derail legislation needed to enact her EU exit plans.
And one Cabinet minister said that the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit was so severe that May may be forced to revoke Article 50, the formal process of leaving the 28-nation bloc.
She now heads out to Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday, hoping to win some concessions to help her persuade her critics to approval her deal in a “meaningful vote” expected in the New Year.
Her confidence vote victory came just three hours after she had made a final pitch to all 317 of her Tory MPs, in a packed committee room of the Commons.
In a bid to win as much support as possible, May signalled that she would never again lead her party into an election against Labour.
Some MPs were in tears as she made the promise, but leading rebel Jacob Rees-Mogg said that he did not believe her, pointing out she had only said she “intends” not to contest the election.
Others said the PM had told the gathering that she had wanted to fight the 2022 election to make up for her disastrous performance in costing the party its majority in 2017, but realised MPs were ‘not comfortable’ with the idea.
In a further bid to win support, May also said she wanted a “legally watertight solution” to the vexed problem of the Northern Ireland backstop – a guarantee to keep open the Irish border by linking the UK indefinitely to EU trade rules.
One cabinet minister said that the PM had tried to reassure MPs that she would not do anything to break faith with the DUP.
“She made absolutely clear that to get a deal, to deliver a deal the only way of doing it is with the Democratic Unionist Party,” he said.
Possible leadership contenders Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and David Davis, as well as home secretary Sajid Javid and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, will now all have to bide their time for a future vacancy.
Bone said: “She said in 2017 she would only lead the Conservative party if she had the support of the Parliamentary party.
“Clearly when you’ve got more than a third voting against you don’t. If she honours her word she will decide in the interests of the party and the nation that she’ll go. She should consider overnight whether she should carry on.”
Francois added: “Cabinet ministers will have to take a judgment based on this result. If any cabinet minister has lost confidence in her as a result of this I think they should have the decency and the honour to go and tell her to her face.”
Pro-EU MP Anna Soubry said that the figures proved that this was “not only a hard right rump” who were unhappy with the PM.
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn lambasted May’s postponement of a Commons vote on her Brexit deal at Prime Minister’s Question Time. The PM was watched by her husband Philip as her most loyal MPs cheered her on.
Corbyn reacted to the news by saying: “Tonight’s vote makes no difference to the lives of our people. The Prime Minister has lost her majority in Parliament, her government is in chaos and she is unable to deliver a Brexit deal.”
Europe remains a deeply divisive issue for the Tory party, nearly 30 years after Margaret Thatcher was ousted from power.
Sir John Major faced down Eurosceptic rebels in 1995, winning a confidence vote as Prime Minister by two to one.