UK prime minister Theresa May has confirmed she will not lead her Conservative Party into the next general election.
But she declined to put a date on her departure, and appeared to suggest her promise applies to the next scheduled election in June 2022, leaving a question mark over whether she would stand down if an early vote is called.
May was speaking a day after she survived an attempt to oust her by rebel Tory MPs, who submitted at least 48 letters of no confidence in her leadership.
Her victory by a margin of 200-117 – and her call for politicians to “come together” in the national interest – did not quell vicious feuding within the party.
Hardline “Brexiteers” repeated demands for the Prime Minister to quit as party leader, insisting the result showed she had lost the confidence of more than a third of her MPs and a majority of backbenchers.
Arriving at the European Council summit in Brussels, May was asked to confirm publicly the promise she made behind closed doors to Tory MPs as she sought their support on Wednesday.
She said: “Yes, I have said that in my heart I would love to be able to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election.
“But I think it is right that the party feels that it would prefer to go into that election with a new leader.”
The Prime Minister was pressed over whether her decision means she will step down as soon as the Brexit process is complete.
Her response suggested the promise is linked in her mind to the scheduled vote in three-and-a-half years’ time.
Asked whether she has a date in mind, she said: “No. People try to talk about dates. What I’m clear about is the next general election is in 2022 and I think it’s right that another party leader takes us into that general election.”
May’s announcement sparked inevitable speculation about a successor, and backbench Tories reported that campaigns are already getting under way on behalf of potential future leaders.
May’s former policy adviser George Freeman said there is no hope of long-term survival for any Tory leader taking the country through Brexit.
“Whoever leads through this, I think, will be finished by it,” he said.