With British politics thrust into the deepest turmoil since last June’s shock Brexit vote, EU leaders have been left wondering how divorce talks would open next week.
Despite her party’s expectations of a landslide victory, May lost her majority in parliament, pushing her into rushed talks on a support agreement with a small Eurosceptic Northern Irish Protestant party with 10 parliamentary seats.
May faced her lawmakers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee (the Conservative Private Members’ Committee) on Monday. Despite anger at the election, she was cheered briefly at the start of the meeting.
“She said, ‘I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it,’” one Conservative lawmaker said after the meeting.
“She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”
May appeared contrite, sought to apologise for her failed election gamble and gave an explanation of what went wrong.
While some members of her party have said she will have to go eventually, May is expected to stay on as prime minister at least for now.
She has promised to start the formal Brexit talks next week but her authority has collapsed since the election result and opponents took her woes as a chance to push back against her Brexit strategy.
During the campaign, May cast herself as the only leader competent enough to navigate the tortuous Brexit negotiations that will shape the future of the United Kingdom and its $2.5 trillion economy.
She mocked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist, as incompetent and unrealistic, but his electoral campaign energised the youth vote and wiped out the Conservatives’ majority in parliament.
May plans a clean break from the EU, involving withdrawal from Europe’s single market and customs union and limits on immigration from the EU.
Britain’s Brexit minister, David Davis, has backed May, saying claims made by former finance minister George Osborne that she is a “dead woman walking” are wrong and self-indulgent.
“I find it incredibly self indulgent for the Tory party to be going for this sort of stuff,” he said on ITV television.
“It is our job to get on with running the country.”
Before the Government can do anything it must finalise a deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). May is due to meet its leader Arlene Foster on Tuesday.
Although the Conservatives need the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to govern, Davis said the party would not adopt the views of its intended partner on matters such as abortion and gay marriage.
“We don’t adopt their views, we don’t adopt their policies,” he said.
“We’ve just been returned to government with a minority government in effect; it’s our duty to make it work, it’s our duty to make it deliver for the British people.”
May earlier reappointed most of her ministers to cabinet but brought a Brexit campaigner and party rival into government to try to unite her Conservatives.
The 60-year-old leader said she had tapped experience across the “whole of the Conservative Party” when she appointed Michael Gove, a long-serving cabinet minister who had clashed with May when she was home secretary, as agriculture minister.
It was a surprise move – Gove was sacked as justice minister by May last year after his bid to become party leader forced now-foreign minister Boris Johnson from the race, amid accusations of treachery and political backstabbing.
Johnson, meanwhile, has brushed off reports he is plotting to oust May, insisting he fully supports her attempts to form a minority government.
Writing in The Sun, the Foreign Secretary said May dseserved the backing of the Conservative Party, having secured the largest number of Tory votes since the days of Margaret Thatcher.
He said there was no appetite among the public for a leadership contest which could plunge the party into a fresh general election.
“To those that say the PM should step down, or that we need another election or even – God help us – a second referendum, I say come off it. Get a grip, everyone,” he says.
“This is the third year running that we have forced the people out to the polls. This is the third year running that they have been accosted at stations and asked for their support, or had campaign literature thrust into their hands.
“My judgment is that they are fed up to the back teeth with all this. They are fed up with politics, politicians and the uncertainty and dislocation of the electoral process. They overwhelmingly want us to get on with the job.”
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