Theresa May was waved off by her husband Philip this morning while departing for Brussels to save Brexit after her make-or-break confidence vote win last night - where she will again beg European leaders to rescue her deal.
Yesterday the Prime Minister was backed by Tory MPs by 200 to 117 in a confidence after conceding she will not lead the party into the 2022 general election
Philip also cheered her on at Prime Ministers Questions earlier in the day - and the pair are understood to have celebrated her political survival with a glass of wine and some crisps last night.
The Prime Minister will make her pitch to the heads of the 27 member states at a banquet this evening after the most important EU summit of her political career.
EU sources have insisted there are no plans to offer her a 'legally binding' solution to the Irish backstop - but without one Mrs May's divisive deal will not get through Parliament, likely forcing a second referendum, a no deal Brexit or even a general election.
Former ally Iain Duncan-Smith, who voted against the PM last night, said today that Mrs May should tell EU leaders: 'If you want a deal you'd better damn well step up to the plate' and warn them Britain's £39billion Brexit bill is 'fully at risk' unless they remove the backstop.
After seeing off the coup a chastened Mrs May welcomed the win in a Downing Street speech where she acknowledged ‘a significant number of colleagues cast their votes against me’.
But she said she would now pursue a ‘renewed mission – delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together, and building a country that truly works for everyone’.
Now her fate is in the hands of EU leaders who have repeatedly said they will not re-open negotiations.
A senior source said last night: 'Politically she can have all the warm words she wants, but it was very clear in the meeting that there is very little appetite indeed for anything legally binding'.
The Prime Minister will restart negotiations with European leaders after winning the intense 15-hour fight to keep her own job, with a vote of no-confidence announced early yesterday and concluded by 9pm.
Standing on Downing Street last night, Mrs May pleaded to be allowed to 'get on with the job' of delivering Brexit - by rivals both within and outside of her party.
But her hopes of harmony may be short-lived. Jeremy Corbyn insisted her 'dismal' deal be put to Parliament next week, while Labour MPs branded her a 'lame duck' after she vowed she would not lead the Tories into the next general election.
Rebel chief Jacob Rees-Mogg said because a third of her MPs hadn't backed her: 'She ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign' - Chancellor Philip Hammond hit back and called Mr Rees-Mogg and his supporters 'extremists'.
Instead, the EU is only likely to offer 'clarifications' that the EU does not want to use the backstop and it should be a last resort. However, it may also include a pledge to consider ways of giving further assurances that, while not binding, carry more legal weight.
In an astonishing day of political drama, Conservative MPs voted by 200 to 117 for her to stay on as Tory leader and Prime Minister. Despite months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two thirds of Tory MPs backed her.
Cabinet ministers immediately demanded that her opponents give her the breathing space and support to secure an 'orderly exit' from the EU. But Mrs May's victory, which means she cannot be challenged again for at least 12 months, came at a price. She was forced to promise she will quit before the next general election, scheduled for 2022.
Eurosceptics and Labour said the numbers were 'shocking' and a 'disaster', while Cabinet ministers queued up to talk up the positives. Jeremy Hunt yesterday said her 'stamina, resilience and decency' had 'again won the day', while Treasury minister Liz Truss said it was 'convincing'.
And the scale of yesterday's revolt – more than a third of her MPs want her gone – will raise questions about how long she can stay in charge.
Draft conclusions to be considered by EU leaders, seen by the Mail, say: 'The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided.'
However, it adds: 'Such assurance will not change or contradict the Withdrawal Agreement.'
One paragraph in the draft summit conclusions that could help Mrs May says the backstop were to be triggered 'it would apply only temporarily unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement'. The text adds: 'In such a case, the union would use its best endeavours to negotiate a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, so that it would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.'
Mrs May is seeking assurances that Britain could never become 'trapped' indefinitely in the customs backstop, which will come into effect if no trade deal is struck to avoid a border emerging between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Some MPs fear the agreement could lead to Britain being tied to the bloc's customs regime indefinitely – opposition that led to Mrs May shelving a scheduled Commons vote on the deal.
EU sources appeared to rule out the idea of any further assurances being legally binding. One senior diplomat said yesterday: 'The Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration are set. We don't think a legal instrument is possible here.'
Another senior official added: 'What is not feasible is renegotiations of the Withdrawal Agreement of the deal which was reached. This is not on the table and whatever reassurance will be given they cannot contradict the deal which was agreed on November 25. I don't know what's possible, but what I know is impossible is to renegotiate the deal – that's impossible.'
Another senior EU source suggested a solution could be to beef-up language in the political declaration on the future relationship – the part of the deal that is not legally binding.
EU Council chief Donald Tusk wrote to EU leaders yesterday pledging to listen to Mrs May before making any 'conclusions'.
Mrs May welcomed the result on Tuesday night while acknowledging that 'a significant number of colleagues did cast their votes against me'.
She said she would now pursue a 'renewed mission – delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together, and building a country that truly works for everyone'. She said the situation called for 'politicians on all sides coming together and acting in the national interest' – an apparent plea for help from Labour.
Speaking in Downing Street afterwards, a clearly shaken Mrs May admitted that she needed to get an improved deal from the EU with 'legally binding' assurances on the Irish border backstop.
'I am pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues in tonight's ballot,' she said yesterday evening.
'Whilst I'm grateful for that support, significant number of colleagues did cast their vote against me and I have listened to what they have said.
'We now need to get on with the job of delivering for the British people and building a better future for this country.'
Mrs May added: 'That must start here in Westminster with politicians on all sides coming together to act in the national interest.
'I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop. I go to the European Council tomorrow and I will be seeking legal and political guarantees that will assuage those concerns.'
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the result as a 'strong vote of support' for the PM.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: 'This was a very comfortable victory for Theresa May. Removing her would have been self-indulgent and irresponsible. I'm glad that a large majority agreed.'
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the hardline European Research Group which forced the vote, said the PM had suffered a 'terrible result' in which the 'overwhelming majority of her backbenchers have voted against her'.
'Of course I accept this result, but Theresa May must realise that under all constitutional norms she ought to go and see the Queen urgently and resign,' he said.
Mrs May appealed to Tory MPs not to sack her at an emotionally-charged Commons meeting just minutes before the ballot opened last night.
She pledged she would not call a snap election, and said the party's greatest duty was to prevent Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street.
One source at the meeting said she told MPs: 'In my heart I would have loved to have led us into the next election, but I realise that we will need a new leader with new objectives for the 2022 election.'
Some ministers were said to be close to tears as the PM acknowledged that some in her own party want her gone rather than risk a repeat of last year's disastrous election campaign.
On a day of high political drama:
- Mrs May said she would demand fresh 'legal and political' assurances on the Irish backstop when she travels to a Brussels summit on Brexit today;
- A Cabinet source said Mrs May was planning a snap reshuffle to stamp her authority on the Government;
- Tory whips sparked anger by reinstating suspended MPs Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke so that they could vote;
- Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who was ousted in a similar confidence vote in 2003, revealed he had voted against the Prime Minister;
- Liam Fox said Mrs May's Brexit agreement could be abandoned unless the EU offers concessions;
- Chancellor Philip Hammond said the vote would 'flush out the extremists' on the party's Eurosceptic wing;
- Business leaders voiced dismay at the decision to stage a leadership contest at the height of the Brexit negotiations;
- European Research Group members vowed to continue a campaign of 'guerilla warfare' against the Government.
The vote came after Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady announced that at least 48 MPs had written letters of no confidence in Mrs May, sparking a vote under the party's leadership rules.
After the announcement yesterday morning, Mrs May pledged to fight the coup attempt with 'everything I've got'.
She ducked questions about the exact date of her departure.