Mrs May’s comments caught some in her own party off guard, coming less than three months after she squandered the Conservatives’ majority in a disastrous snap election.
The result forced the Prime Minister to humble herself before backbenchers, telling the Tory 1922 Committee in June: “I will continue to serve as long as you want me.”
On Wednesday night Mrs May said: “I’m in this for the long term. There’s a real job to be done in the United Kingdom. It’s about getting the Brexit deal right, it’s about building that deep and special partnership with the European Union, but it’s also about building global Britain, trading around the world.”
Speaking at a press conference alongside Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe today, Mrs May added: “I said I wasn’t a quitter and there is a long-term job to do. There is an important job to be done in the United Kingdom, we stand at a really critical time in the UK.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, viewed as a potential candidate in any future Tory leadership contest, said the Prime Minister had his “undivided” support but former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said it would be “difficult” for Mrs May to lead the party into the next election, due in 2022.
And former party chairman Grant Shapps said it was “too early” for Mrs May to talk about going “on and on” like Margaret Thatcher, insisting it was for the party to decide how long she remained leader. He said it was “probably the case” that nobody wanted Mrs May to face Jeremy Corbyn at the ballot box again and added: “I think colleagues may well be surprised by this interview last night.”
Ms Morgan told BBC’s Hardtalk that no leader wants to put a date on their departure in advance because it is a sign of “your own political mortality”.
But she added: “I think it’s going to be difficult for Theresa May to lead us into the next general election.”
Senior Tory MP Nigel Evans, who was scathing in his criticism of the Tory campaign after Mrs May’s election gamble backfired, insisted that the Prime Minister’s vow to continue was “great news”.
“We need no more instability whilst the PM focuses on disentangling the UK from the EU,” he said.
“We have the right leader and PM to deliver this for us.”