Confidence vote victory would still leave Theresa May with less authority

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Media caption"I stand ready to finish the job" - Theresa May

Theresa May addressed Conservative MPs shortly before they began casting their ballots in a vote of confidence in her as their party leader.

As the prime minister arrived, her colleagues weren't quite sure of the result.

One member of the government told me the result of the ballot would be closer than expected - not a comfortable victory.

Another member of the cabinet told me it would change nothing - it was an exercise in futility.

Expectation right now is that she will win. But the prime minister has said that she'll go - though not just yet.

She'll have what a loyal minister described as a "little more time". But to do what?

Conservative Party rules say that if she wins tonight she can stay on as leader, undisturbed, for another 12 months.

That takes one uncertainty off the table. But she would be weaker - lonelier - and with less authority to drive her Brexit compromise through.

Already, cabinet ministers are speculating about which way she can tack.

The parliamentary sums don't change on her current planned agreement with the EU. The cabinet, let alone the rest of the Commons, won't give their backing.

So the prime minister is left tonight even with a likely victory, with less time in office, less authority, and with no credible Brexit policy - and now, even more to do.

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