May needed to secure at least 158 votes from the Conservatives to remain as leader of the party and managed to do so with a firm margin. Addressing the press outside Downing Street, May acknowledged that a “significant number” of her MPs voted against her, but welcomed the outcome.
Yet the opposition remained skeptical, with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn issuing a statement stressing that the vote “makes no difference” and that May must bring her “dismal deal” to the House of Commons next week “so parliament can take back control.”
Fearing a defeat of the deal she’d struck with the EU last month, the 62-year-old leader cancelled a parliamentary vote on the divorce agreement on Monday, promising to hold it by January 21. In the meantime, she pledged to seek extra guarantees from Brussels to make sure her Brexit roadmap is accepted by the parliament.
Faced with a vote of confidence triggered by 48 Conservative MPs, May made a last-minute appeal for support earlier on Wednesday. Expressing her firm commitment to Brexit, she said that she would not lead the party into the next election in 2022.
Despite remaining in power on Wednesday, May still faces stiff opposition, mainly focused on the backstop arrangement between EU member-state Ireland and UK-governed Northern Ireland to prevent a hard border and customs monitoring after the UK leaves the European Union. Critics fear that the temporary measure will become permanent as London and Brussels are nowhere near signing a new free trade agreement.
“I don’t think this vote really changes very much in terms of the arithmetic on that and that’s our concern,” Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party told BBC. “Our concerns are about the legally binding nature of the indefinite arrangements that we would be tied into and the difficulties that would pose for Northern Ireland.”