May under threat after gamble fails
Fears over pact with Unionists
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.
Newspaper front pages on display at a shop in Westminster, London, following the results of Britain’s general election last week.