May fails to get ringing endorsement from her own MPs

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Theresa May might have won the confidence vote among Tory MPs last night but this felt more like the beginning of the end of her premiership than a new dawn for her beleaguered period at the head of government.

The prime minister was backed by 200 members of the Conservative parliamentary party, but 117 voted against her, undoubtedly a greater number than Mrs May would have wanted or felt comfortable with.

This is clearly not the ringing endorsement the prime minister was hoping for and indeed it underlined the crushing scale of the defeat she would have faced in the House of Commons had she proceeded with the planned vote on her Brexit withdrawal agreement earlier this week.

Mrs May apparently told Tory MPs prior to last night’s vote that she does not intend to fight the next general election as prime minister in 2022, but the likelihood is that her tenure could end an awful lot sooner.

As history shows, winning a vote of confidence or even a leadership election is no guarantee of longevity. Margaret Thatcher famously defeated Michael Heseltine in a Tory leadership ballot in November 1990 only to resign two days later.

May loyalists were quick to point out that May’s backing from 200 MPs was more than she managed during the Tory leadership race to succeed David Cameron in 2016.

However, the difference was just one vote and in this case 117 MPs have expressed no confidence in her leadership, as opposed to merely voting for another candidate.

Mrs May’s future surely depends on her renegotiation of her Brexit deal and in particular the removal of the Irish backstop. Unless she can deliver improvements to the Brexit withdrawal agreement it will be defeated when it eventually comes before the Commons next month.

To survive, even in the medium term, she must start demonstrating belated backbone in her dealings with the EU. If not, this will surely be a brief stay of execution.