Theresa May has seen off a challenge to her leadership, in part by indicating she will not fight the next election as leader. So what happens now?
She is safe, for now
Under Conservative Party rules, May can now not be challenged by her own party for another year. The misfired attempt to oust her has insulated her against another uprising.
But the numbers remain the same
The prime minister has clung to office, but that does not means Tory MPs opposed to her Brexit deal have suddenly been won over and will vote for the plan when it is eventually put to the Commons. There is still no majority for her deal. Parliament remains deadlocked.
Off to Europe
To try and break the impasse, May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for the European Council summit to get enough “reassurances” on the Northern Ireland backstop to convince Tory MPs to change their mind and back the deal.
But this seems unlikely. The EU will not agree to a deal without the backstop. Many Tory MPs and the DUP want the backstop removed from the agreement.
Speaking to her backbenchers hours before the vote, May said she would secure a “legally watertight solution” to ensure the backstop had a firm end date or a mechanism for the UK to leave it unilaterally.
The PM faces a grilling from EU leaders before she leaves the room and allows them to discuss what, if any, concessions they can give her. On Friday May will only attend the morning session before giving a press conference as the other leaders discuss the eurozone. May’s official spokesman said: “We absolutely believe we are going to get the assurances we require to put this to a vote in the Commons.”
Then to the Commons
Ominously for May, it is not just backbench Tories who will need to be convinced she has come back more than the same deal with a new badge on it. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday he was “not even sure the cabinet will agree” to the deal if substantial changes had not been won.
If the cabinet does agree, MPs will then have to be asked to vote on the revised deal. The government has said this will take place before January 21, 2019. May’s critics suspect she wants to run the clock down and hold the vote at the last possible moment to ensure MPs have the choice of her deal or no deal - with no time to introduce another option into the mix.
The DUP problem
In the unlikely event MPs do approve her revised plan. The PM then has another problem. The DUP, which props up her minority administration, has said it would join with Labour to force a no confidence vote in the government if the deal passes.
A general election
If MPs vote down the deal a second time, May could take the ultimate gamble and decide the only way to change the parliamentary arithmetic is bet everything on another snap general election.
Given her experience in 2017, she probably is not overly keen on doing that again. But Jeremy Corbyn very much is. And if the prime minister does not volunteer one, Labour are likely to try and force one.
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the opposition would have to win a vote of no confidence in the PM in the Commons. It would mean the DUP and a number of Tory rebels would have to side with Labour to pass.
A second referendum
May has repeatedly ruled out holding a referendum on her deal. But again, with there appearing to be no majority for any way forward in the Commons, the government could decide the only way to force parliament to accept its deal would be to win the support of the public in a referendum.
The warnings from institutions like the Bank of England, the CBI, and the government’s own technical papers have been calamitous about the impact of leaving without a deal – though some Brexiteers say much of this is an exaggeration. But if everything else fails it’s possible that it could happen. And as HuffPost UK reports, Tory figures are becoming resigned to the prospect of the UK quitting the EU without any Brussels agreement on March 29, 2019.
If May’s agreement cannot pass the Commons there is a way out of no deal. The European Court of Justice has ruled that Britain can simply revoke the letter which triggered Brexit and MPs are already eyeing it up as an escape route. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has said he is “reviewing” whether it would require legislation, or whether a simple vote in the Commons would be enough to stop Brexit. Anti-hard Brexit MPs will have noticed his comments.