British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to convince people that she's no lame duck by insisting she intends to lead her Conservative Party into the next election. Her own lawmakers chuckled at the idea.
After a weekend that saw one newspaper claim to know the date in 2019 when May is planning to quit, the premier jumped at the chance to stop the rumor mill during a visit to Japan. Asked whether she'd still be in her job by 2022, when the next vote is due, her response was unequivocal.
"Yes," she said Wednesday. "There's been an awful lot of speculation about my future which has no basis in it whatsoever. I'm in this for the long term. I'm not a quitter."
The reaction from lawmakers, speaking privately, was to laugh at the idea. In the run-up to June's election, May took the Tory poll lead from 20 percentage points down to 2 points, losing seats — and her majority — in Parliament. That formed the impression that she would be removed when her party chose.
The consensus among backbenchers and ministers who spoke on condition of anonymity was that May's answer was aimed at warding off challengers during a particularly delicate time: ahead of a party conference and a summit of European Union leaders that could settle the direction of Brexit. Both are taking place in October.
Justin Fisher, professor of politics at Brunel University, agreed: "To say anything else would be political suicide for her, for the Conservative Party, and actually for Britain, in terms of the extremely lengthy negotiations over Brexit, which will shape the country for years to come."
May's allies said that the more important statement was the private promise she made in the wake of the June 8 election that she would stay on only as long as they wanted her to. That commitment, as well as the absence of an obvious successor, helped avert an immediate move to dump her.
In the days around that pledge, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, fired by May, had delighted in calling her a "dead woman walking." Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan — also removed by May — said she might be gone by the end of the year.
But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pledged his "undivided" support and endorsed her Brexit strategy. "She really wants to deliver it. I'm here to support her," he said.