Theresa May has announced she will stand down as prime minister if her Brexit deal finally secures a majority in parliament in a desperate, last-ditched gamble to deliver on her promise when she took office of taking Britain out of the European Union.
In an emotional address to the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee on Wednesday, May succumbed to weeks of intense pressure from Tory MPs by confirming she will make way for a new PM to lead the next stage of negotiations with the EU if her withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons at the third attempt.
"I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to secure a smooth and orderly Brexit," she said.
May did not set a departure date but made clear she would go once the first stage of Brexit was delivered.
May hopes that making the announcement now — the very last card she has — will persuade rebel MPs to swing behind her deal in the belief that a different leader will have more success during the negotiations on the future relationship.
If the deal does go through, the next prime minister will decided by a Conservative party leadership contest.
To survive a confidence vote led by pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in December, she had already been forced to announce that she would step down as party leader before the next scheduled general election in 2022.
Dozens of backbenchers who previously voted against the withdrawal agreement are now expected to announce they will support it at the third meaningful vote, which could come later this week — though there is fresh doubt about whether Speaker John Bercow will allow it to go ahead without substantial changes.
The government nonetheless faces an uphill struggle to overturn the previous defeats, which were by historic margins. By BuzzFeed News' count, there are currently more than 60 Tory MPs who still opposed to the deal.
May became prime minister in July 2016 following David Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the EU referendum. She has to hold office for another 63 days to overtake Gordon Brown’s two years and 319 days in Number 10.
The commitment to hand over the keys to Number 10 has been a key demand of rebel MPs as May sought to vote for the EU withdrawal agreement.
At a meeting at the PM's Chequers residence on Sunday, Brexiteer MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith told the PM that in order to get the deal through she would have to set out a departure timetable.
On Saturday, BuzzFeed News revealed that May had been told by her whips office — with one whip on the verge of tears — that the deal would not get through unless backbenchers received guarantees about the future leadership of the party.
The pressure on May to step down has been building for months.
In January, BuzzFeed News reported that Tory MPs had told Downing Street aides May could win support for her deal by agreeing to step down afterwards. In the autumn, May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell discussed the idea with a cabinet minister, but it was seen as a “last resort” after all other options had been exhausted.
In February, a former cabinet minister told BuzzFeed News that “dozens” of rebels would switch if she agreed to quit. Another Tory MP said: “The only way I will vote for the deal is if she makes a cast iron pledge to go”.
Several MPs made the demand directly in face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations with the PM.
Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the prime minister said that May’s deal would be brought back before Parliament only if support was there for it in the House, adding that the government was still working on building that support.
The spokesperson did not rule out MPs sitting on Friday - or even Saturday - to meet the deadline set by the European Union. Should Parliament fail to pass a deal this week, the spokesperson said the deal could still be brought later as discussions with EU leaders continue.
However, the chances of May achieving a majority remain slim as Labour stood firm in its refusal to back her deal. A spokesperson said there would be no point in looking to support her agreement, as it has been proven not to have a majority in parliament. The spokesperson said that in Labour's view there would be a majority in parliament for another way forward.