UK Politics

How long can Theresa May survive as PM?

Theresa May Image copyright Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw

Let's start with what we know.

Wednesday's confidence vote means the prime minister is staying in the job for now and the Conservatives can't force another confidence vote for a year.

In terms of certainty, that's about it, because the result - 200 backing the PM, 117 opposing her - illustrates how deep divisions in the Conservative Party are.

Theresa May's supporters insist that the issue has now been put to bed - it's time for the party to fall in line.

But the tally was not as comfortable as the PM's supporters wanted.

Her allies admitted before the declaration anything over a hundred would be a bad result.

Some spoke of a big win to "lance the boil" of internal dissent. That did not happen.

Instead, one-third of Tory MPs said they do not have confidence in Mrs May.

A source from the backbench group of Conservative Eurosceptics, the European Research Group (ERG), described it as "the mother of all wake-up calls".

Others predict the result would have been a lot closer if the PM hadn't said she would stand down before the 2022 election.

Some say she can't go on.

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Media captionTheresa May: 'We now need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit'

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab says it's hard to see how Mrs May can lead the party forward. ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg says she should resign.

Even her backers admit things look shaky. One MP who backed Mrs May describes her as "limping". Another predicts a "bumpy and messy" period ahead.

Strong and stable seems a distant memory.

Others, however, think Mrs May now has a month to turn things around; to change her Brexit plan and win over her party.

The key issue (though not the only one) remains the backstop - designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland at all costs after Brexit.

The PM has told her MPs she wants legally binding assurances to help address their concerns.

Image copyright EPA/WILL OLIVER
Image caption Can Theresa May get the DUP back on side?

Many now say Mrs May's future relies on what she secures in the next three or four weeks.

Several MPs believe a barometer of success will be whether she can win the DUP back on side - no small task given their anger at what is currently on the table.

This helps explain why the PM spent 45 minutes with Arlene Foster on Wednesday afternoon when she could have been lobbying her own MPs in the run up to the confidence vote.

The big question is how she achieves this.

Europe has shown no desire to reopen the withdrawal agreement which has caused so much anger.

Would a note of clarification be enough? For many Conservatives the answer is a simple no.

One Brexiteer says the relationship in the party "is not going to be repaired unless the withdrawal agreement is abandoned - we're not going to give up on that".

Mrs May has Remain-backing critics too. They say the party is in gridlock and that the only way to end the logjam is another referendum.

So getting a majority in Parliament for a Brexit deal is still a mammoth task.

Even if Mrs May can win over a number of those who said last night they have no confidence in her, it might not be enough.

At present there's a familiar feeling around Westminster; many Tories remain unhappy with the prime minister.

As one veteran puts it: "We're exactly where we were before."

A weary-sounding minister concludes: "Same old, same old."

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