Tory MPs were in tears as Theresa May told them she would not be fighting the next scheduled general election in a bid to save her premiership.
The prime minister addressed colleagues as they prepared to vote on whether to oust her from office.
Several loyal MPs present said May pledged not to fight the 2022 general election, but Brexiteers were not convinced.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told HuffPost UK she was on the edge of tears at the point when May signalled she would not contest the election: “That was a heartfelt moment.
“She confirmed she would love to but she said she understands [the party]. She said her focus is absolutely on getting us the best deal for this country so that we can leave the EU, and do so in a positive way.”
Backbencher Gillian Keegan added: “The emotional point for me came when she said she had been an MP fo 20 years but a party activist for 20 years before that. She’s doing a great job trying to deliver Brexit and to be honest this party needs to grow a pair and get behind her now.”
But Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg was less impressed. “She said it wasn’t her intent to fight next election. But it was that word ‘intent’. It is a classic politician’s word. When she was asked directly if she would fight an election in the next year she mumbled,” he said.
Another Eurosceptic MP present said May “dodged the question” on whether she would contest a snap election in the next year, telling colleagues “she will be here as long as the party wants her”.
Speaking outside the meeting to a throng of reporters in Parliament’s committee corridor, Tory vice chair James Cleverly said: “She recognises there are people that aren’t happy with what’s happened, she recognises that an early general election is not on the cards, not an option, and she also recognises a lot of people aren’t comfortable with her leading us into a future general election.”
And his boss, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, added: “She was very clear with colleagues about her acknowledgement of their views about 2022 but tonight’s vote is about right now, this year, and who is the PM to see us through Brexit over the next 12 months.”
Remain-supporting backbencher Heidi Allen said she now believed May had enough support to see her through tonight’s confidence vote: “I think she’ll be fine, I don’t think that was ever in doubt.”
But Mansfield MP Ben Bradley, who has converted from Remain to Leave, said: “I feel I have heard it all before. The narrative fundamentally changed back in July with Chequers and since then we have just been on the path. I have lost trust now that she knows how to fix it.”
He added: “There is a difference between what people say to journalists and what they will do in the privacy of the voting booth.
“This is about the direction we are headed. Beyond Brexit, I don’t think people out there in the country know what we’re about at this point. We have got to have a vision and a plan.”
A Cabinet minister, who preferred not to be named, said the PM told MPs she had made clear in her meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster that she was fighting to get the necessary reassurances on Brexit.
“She made absolutely clear that to get a deal, to deliver a deal the only way of doing it is with the Democratic Unionist Party,” he said.