May un­der threat after gam­ble fails

Fears over pact with Union­ists

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

BRI­TISH Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was seek­ing a deal with a small North­ern Ir­ish party yes­ter­day to stay in power after los­ing her party’s par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity in a cat­a­strophic elec­toral gam­ble just days be­fore Brexit talks are set to start.

With May’s per­sonal au­thor­ity in tat­ters, there are re­ports that moves are un­der way within her Con­ser­va­tive Party to dis­lodge her, while op­po­si­tion Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn is in­sist­ing she could be ousted and he could re­place her.

“Theresa May is a dead woman walk­ing. It’s just how long she’s go­ing to re­main on death row,” for­mer Con­ser­va­tive fi­nance min­is­ter Ge­orge Os­borne, who was sacked by May when she be­came prime min­is­ter last year, told the BBC.

With Bri­tain due to start ne­go­ti­at­ing the terms of its exit from the Euro­pean Union with the bloc’s 27 other mem­bers on June 19, the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Lon­don could not have come at a worse time.

Those exit talks, ex­pected to be the most com­plex in post-World War II Euro­pean his­tory, are sup­posed to wrap up be­fore the end of March 2019 – a time­line that was al­ready con­sid­ered am­bi­tious be­fore May’s elec­toral de­ba­cle.

Her Down­ing Street of­fice had an­nounced on Satur­day that the “prin­ci­ples of an out­line agree­ment” with North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP) had been agreed, only for the DUP to cast doubt on that ac­count hours later.

“The talks so far have been pos­i­tive. Dis­cus­sions will con­tinue next week to work on the de­tails and to reach agree­ment on ar­range­ments for the new par­lia­ment,” it said.

It was an­other hu­mil­i­a­tion for May and a sign that the so­cially con­ser­va­tive DUP, with its strong fo­cus on North­ern Ire­land’s spe­cific po­lit­i­cal com­plex­i­ties, will not nec­es­sar­ily be a com­pli­ant part­ner for her mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment.

The DUP state­ment put Down­ing Street on the back foot, prompt­ing a care­fully worded re­sponse in the early hours of yes­ter­day that said May had “spo­ken with the DUP to dis­cuss fi­nal­is­ing” a deal in the com­ing week. “We will wel­come any such deal be­ing agreed, as it will pro­vide the sta­bil­ity and cer­tainty the whole coun­try re­quires as we em­bark on Brexit and be­yond,” the Down­ing Street state­ment said.

Many crit­ics, in­clud­ing Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Ruth David­son, have ex­pressed con­cerns over the DUP’s stances against gay mar­riage and abor­tion, among other is­sues.

Oth­ers have also said a Con­ser­va­tive-DUP deal could en­dan­ger North­ern Ire­land’s peace set­tle­ment, which re­lies on the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment be­ing a neu­tral ar­biter be­tween those who want the prov­ince to re­main in the United King­dom and those who want it to be­come part of the Repub­lic of Ire­land.

“Just to be clear, we will act in the na­tional in­ter­est. We want to do what is right for the whole of the UK and to bring sta­bil­ity to the gov­ern­ment of the United King­dom,” DUP leader Ar­lene Foster said yes­ter­day.

The Con­ser­va­tives won 318 House of Com­mons seats in Thurs­day’s elec­tion, eight short of an out­right ma­jor­ity. Labour, the main op­po­si­tion party, won 262. The DUP won 10.

Labour’s Cor­byn told the Sun­day Mir­ror news­pa­per he sees a route to power him­self, al­though it is not clear how he will com­mand the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers of par­lia­ment. Labour’s tally, even when added to those of po­ten­tial al­lies such as the Scot­tish Na­tional Party and other smaller par­ties, is still short of a ma­jor­ity.

Cor­byn said that his party will seek to vote down May’s Queen’s Speech, or pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment, when she presents it to par­lia­ment, and that an­other na­tional elec­tion might be needed to break the dead­lock.

De­fence Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon, one of May’s most loyal sup­port­ers, said he dis­agreed with Os­borne’s de­scrip­tion of her as a “dead woman walk­ing” and he ex­pected Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers to rally be­hind her.

PIC­TURE: AP

News­pa­per front pages on dis­play at a shop in West­min­ster, Lon­don, fol­low­ing the re­sults of Bri­tain’s gen­eral elec­tion last week.

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