Thursday 23 January 2020

Humiliated May facing party revolt

British Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the results to be declared at the count centre
in Maidenhead yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
British Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the results to be declared at the count centre in Maidenhead yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty

David Milliken and Kate Holton

Senior Conservatives are taking soundings over whether to replace Theresa May as prime minister following her dismal general election performance.

With the Conservatives fighting to run a minority government, senior MPs are concerned that Mrs May now lacks the authority to negotiate a successful Brexit.

Party sources suggested Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and David Davis were being sounded out as possible replacements.

Mrs May insisted she wanted to "get on with the job" while failing to acknowledge the scale of the humiliation she faced in Thursday's election.

She said she would lead a minority government backed by the DUP after she lost an election gamble days before the start of talks on Brexit.

Last night, senior MPs from the DUP arrived in London to negotiate the terms of a deal to prop up the Conservatives and keep them in power.

Mrs May had called the snap election confident her Conservative Party would increase its majority and strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks. Instead, Thursday's vote damaged her authority and made her negotiating position more vulnerable to criticism.

"I'm sorry for all those candidates and hard working party workers who weren't successful," Mrs May said yesterday after a surprise resurgence by the main opposition Labour Party under its left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn. "As I reflect on the results I will reflect on what we need to do in the future to take the party forward."

The Conservatives had won 318 seats, the Labour Party had 262 seats, followed by the pro-independence Scottish National Party on 34.

Mrs May now risks opposition to her Brexit plans from inside and outside her party.

Just after noon, Mrs May was driven the short distance from her official Downing Street residence to Buckingham Palace to ask Queen Elizabeth for permission to form a government - a formality under the British system. But meanwhile talk of a heave was already filtering through senior MPs in the Conservative party.

Read More: Weak Tories offer chance for a better Brexit - Varadkar

The socially conservative, pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party's 10 seats are enough to give the right-wing Conservatives a fragile but workable majority, which Mrs May said would allow her to negotiate a successful exit from the EU.

"Our two parties have enjoyed a strong relationship over many years and this gives me the confidence to believe that we will be able to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom," she said.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster's initial comments were non-committal: "The prime minister has spoken with me this morning and we will enter discussions with the Conservatives to explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge."

It was not immediately clear what the DUP's demands might be and one suggested support might come vote by vote. British business, already struggling with the uncertainties of the two-year Brexit negotiating process, urged party leaders to work together.

"The last thing business leaders need is a parliament in paralysis, and the consequences for British businesses and for the UK as an investment destination would be severe," said Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors business lobby.

Mrs May said Brexit talks would begin on June 19 as scheduled, though the election result meant it was unclear whether her plan to take Britain out of the bloc's single market and customs union could still be pursued.

EU leaders expressed fears that Mrs May's shock loss of her majority would raise the risk of negotiations failing.

"Do your best to avoid a 'no deal' as result of 'no negotiations'," Donald Tusk, leader of the EU's ruling council, wrote in a tweet.

"We need a government that can act," EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. "With a weak negotiating partner, there's a danger that the (Brexit) negotiations will turn out badly for both sides."

There was little sympathy for Mr May from some Europeans. "Yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated," tweeted Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian premier who is the European Parliament's point man for the Brexit process.

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said the outcome could mean a less radical split between Britain and the EU.

Ruth Davidson, leader of Conservatives in Scotland, said the results showed the Conservatives should prioritise good trade relations with the EU.

Mr Corbyn, revelling in a storming campaign trail performance after pundits had pronounced his Labour Party all but dead, said Mrs May should step down and that he wanted to form a minority government.

"The mandate she's got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence," he said. "I would have thought that's enough to go, actually, and make way for a government that will be truly representative of all of the people of this country."

Mrs May unexpectedly called the snap election seven weeks ago, three years early - polls predicting she would massively increase the slim majority she inherited from David Cameron.

Her campaign unravelled after a policy U-turn on care for the elderly, while Mr Corbyn's old-school socialist platform and more impassioned campaigning won wider support than any had foreseen, notably from young voters, say analysts.

Irish Independent

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