Theresa May’s government has survived a no-confidence vote called by the opposition Labour party following the humiliating rejection of her Brexit deal—the largest parliamentary defeat in British history.
Although dozens of her colleagues rebelled against her in the vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday, the Conservative party rallied behind her—alongside the Northern Irish DUP which has a loose coalition arrangement with the Conservatives—to allow her to limp on with her faltering attempts to see through Britain’s exit from the European Union.
But May’s colleagues—who’ve so frequently betrayed and ridiculed her—decided to back her rather than running the risk of allowing the Labour party to take over with just 72 days left to go until the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU at the end of March.
However, while May will savour the rare taste of victory, the result is not going to make her job any easier. Her deal was so resoundingly rejected that, even with some tweaks, the chances of any version of it ever getting the backing of parliament currently appear to be vanishingly small.
In fact, despite the victory, a government source told The Daily Beast another general election—which would be the third since 2015—is now much more likely.
What she’ll actually do isn’t yet clear to anyone. She’s stated that her preferred route is to seek more consensus in the British parliament with cross-party talks before attempting to gain more concessions from the EU.
A U.K. government minister predicted to The Daily Beast that May will attempt to win support from a majority of parliament by altering the deal before heading back to the EU for more talks. The minister said: “Resubmit the plan without the backstop. Secure the support and then go back to the EU and say ‘How’s about them apples?’”
The backstop is temporary customs union between the U.K. and the EU which could be used to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republican of Ireland and has proved the major sticking point for pro-Brexit lawmakers who fear it will leave the U.K. bound by European laws without having any say over how they’re made.
But the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out removing that measure from the agreement Wednesday, saying that “the backstop, which we agreed to with the U.K., must remain a backstop.”
An election win for the Conservatives would amount to public approval for the May deal, and go some way in persuading rebels to back it. But an election, and indeed most other options open to May, would almost certainly require her to request an extension from EU leaders to the end-of-March deadline for the U.K. to leave.
So while May can relax for a few hours, she’ll soon be faced with the seemingly impossible Brexit impasse again—and time is running out fast.