The rumours were true. This morning, Sir Graham Brady informed the Prime Minister that the required 48 letters had been submitted, and a confidence vote was being called.
Unlike last time, those who submitted the letters didn’t back out last minute. The vote happened, and Mrs. May has spent the day wondering whether she could win it.
Downing Street is said to have believed that as few as 70 MPs would vote against her, but that didn’t stop them restoring the whip of a Tory MP who was suspended during a sex text scandal. Andrew Griffiths MP had his whip restored after being suspended for six months after inappropriate text messages were unearthed and he responded in kind, voting in support of the Prime Minister.
Before the vote took place, Andrea Jenkins (a staunchly pro-Brexit MP) told Sky News that Members of Parliament who were expected to vote in favour of the Prime Minister had been telling her that, in the secret ballot, they may not support her after all. So of course, there was a great amount of talk about Mrs May losing the vote and being forced to resign as Prime Minister. But that’s not how it worked out.
The results were as follows:
Confidence in the Prime Minister: 200
No Confidence in the Prime Minister: 117
Her win is being spun in many different ways. May loyalists claim that the result strengthens her position, as she gained one extra vote compared to the number of Tory MPs who initially voted for her during the leadership election. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Brexiteers, however, see it quite differently.
Speaking to the press shortly after the result was announced, Rees-Mogg explained that with 139 Tory MPs on the payroll, she really only got a further 61 MPs to back her. He said that she should behave like Thatcher and resign, rather than like Major and lead the Tory Party to defeat.
A very likely explanation for the Prime Minister’s victory tonight is that she gave up her opportunity to fight another election. Before the vote, Mrs May announced that she would not be leading the party into the 2022 election – potentially swaying some MPs who might have been concerned she would be unable to lead the party to victory in the next General Election.
The Prime Minister was, however, unclear during the 1922 Committee meeting whether she would fight an election held before 2022. With the threat of a vote of no confidence being made against the government – which is possible if the DUP decides to team up with Labour – then Mrs May would need to make a decision to step down, or fight. Given a snap election would happen quite quickly, she’d probably be forced to fight it.
As a result of her win, and according to the Conservative Party’s own rules, May is safe as leader of the party for a further 12 months. No more votes of confidence can be made until those 12 months are up.
Mrs May now has a job to finish. She will go to a European Union summit where she will continue seeking further assurance over the backstop issue, and I’m beginning to think she might have something up her sleeve. She won’t be able to change the withdrawal agreement, but if her legal reassurances are strong enough, she could win enough of her own party over. Not only will she use the threat of a Corbyn government or no Brexit at all, but some legal reassurances could be enough to sway some MPs who accept they lost the no confidence vote.
Even Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News tonight that if she comes back with a change to the backstop issue, then even he will compromise and vote for it. Surely she knows that, and perhaps she can even do more than just gain reassurances. If she can convince the EU that this is important enough, she could make the changes she needs to win Brexiteers over with – and maybe she’ll even get the DUP back on board.
Will it all be worth it, though?
Upon taking the reigns as Prime Minister, May told us that she was intending to fight burning injustices. She now has to completely abandon her domestic agenda, deliver the Withdrawal Agreement, deliver a trade deal, and step down before 2022 comes along.
She will, at least, be fighting harder than ever to cement her legacy as the successful Brexit Prime Minister.