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 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.
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
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.
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.