British PM regroups after election setback
Theresa May British Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to name the rest of her cabinet on Saturday after a crushing election setback, just days before Brexit talks begin.
Members of her Conservative party have warned May her days are numbered after calling Thursday’s vote three years early, only to lose her parliamentary majority.
But senior figures also cautioned against an immediate leadership election, as the government prepares to start talks on leaving the European Union around June 19.
May announced Friday she would seek to form a minority government with the help of a small Northern Irish party, the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
She failed to express contrition for her gamble that spectacularly backfired, but newspaper headlines reflected the sense that she has been deeply wounded.
“May fights to remain PM,” headlined the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph headlined, while the Daily Mail said: “Tories turn on Theresa”.
“From hubris to humiliation,” said the left-leaning Guardian. “May stares into the abyss,” wrote The Times, while The Sun said succinctly: “She’s had her chips.”
Some Conservative lawmakers called for May’s joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, to be sacked for their key role in the election campaign.
May confirmed Friday that senior ministers would remain in their posts, despite rumours that she had been ready to sack finance minister Philip Hammond following a clash over her Brexit strategy.
The prime minister has vowed to pull Britain out of Europe’s single market in order to end mass migration from the bloc, despite fears of the economic impact.
European Council President Donald Tusk has warned there was “no time to lose” in starting talks, after May started the two-year countdown to Brexit on March 29.
Despite earlier saying that a cabinet meeting had been scheduled for Saturday, a spokesman said May would not be holding one but would name more members of her cabinet.
– DUP alliance –
The Conservatives won 318 seats in Thursday’s vote, down from 331 in the 2015 vote, falling short of an overall majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.
The DUP, which won 10 seats, said it is ready to talk with May about supporting her government, although such an alliance would be far from straight forward.
London’s neutrality in Northern Ireland is key to the delicate balance of power in the province once plagued by decades of unrest.
But the Protestant DUP was founded to defend Northern Ireland’s place in Britain against demands by Catholic republicans for a united Ireland.
On Brexit, the DUP supports leaving the EU but opposes a return to a “hard” border with Ireland — which could happen if May carries through her threat to walk away from the talks rather than accept a “bad deal”.
The DUP is “likely to increase the pressure on Theresa May to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement”, said Stephen Booth of the Open Europe think tank.
The DUP’s social conservatism — it is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion — has also alarmed some in May’s party, particularly Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay.
Davidson — who secured her party’s best result for three decades, winning 13 Scottish MPs — said she had sought and received assurances from May about maintaining lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights.
“I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party. One of them is country, one of the others is LGBTI rights,” she told the BBC.
– ‘Further upheaval’ –
May was interior minister for six years before taking over from David Cameron in the political chaos that following last June’s Brexit referendum.
She inherited a 17-seat majority in the Commons, but called the snap vote to take advantage of opinion polls putting her on course for a landslide.
May sought to frame the campaign around Brexit, but two terror attacks put scrutiny on her record of cutting police numbers, turning to the debate back to austerity, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn promised to end.
Labour gained 30 seats to win 262, with 40 percent of the vote compared to 42.4 percent for May.
The prime minister has since come under fire for hubris, as well as a poor performance on the campaign trail and a manifesto blunder that alienated many core supporters.
Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said she should “consider her position”, while another, Heidi Allen, said she may not last six months.
However, former Conservative party leaders warned against any immediate change, with Iain Duncan Smith saying leadership contest would be a “catastrophe”.
“Voters do not want further months of uncertainty and upheaval,” William Hague wrote in the Daily Telegraph, while adding that “very serious lessons” would be learned.
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