Future uncertain as May loses grip
Tone of Brexit talks with EU in question
LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to strengthen her leadership by calling an early election has left her authority in tatters. Yet her gamble had started quite differently. May is now due to form a government supported by a small Northern Irish party after her Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority in an election debacle days before talks on Britain’s EU departure are due to begin.
May said the government would provide certainty and lead Britain in talks with the EU to secure a successful Brexit deal. She said she could rely in parliament on the support of her “friends” in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party after her governing Conservatives failed to emerge clear winners.
However, party insiders were this weekend putting money on when the prime minister would quit.
Party members yesterday blamed what one called a “just awful” campaign, training their ire on an election team that highlighted the 60-yearold’s flaws by sticking doggedly to an agreed script instead of masking May’s weaknesses.
Confident of securing a sweeping victory, May had called the snap election to strengthen her hand in the EU divorce talks. At that point, polls predicted she would massively increase the slim majority she had inherited from David Cameron. But in one of the most sensational nights in British electoral history, a resurgent Labour Party denied her an outright win, throwing the country into political turmoil.
May had spent the campaign denouncing Jeremy Corbyn as the weak leader of a spendthrift Labour party that would crash Britain’s economy and flounder in Brexit talks, while she would provide “strong and stable leadership” to clinch a good deal for Britain.
But her campaign unravelled after a policy U-turn on care for the elderly (the so-called dementia tax), while Corbyn’s old-school socialist platform and more impassioned campaigning style won wider support than anyone had foreseen.
In the late stages of the campaign, Britain was hit by two Islamist militant attacks that killed 30 people in Manches- ter and London, temporarily shifting the focus to security issues. That did not help May, who in her previous role as interior minister for six years had overseen cuts in the number of police officers. By the end of the seven-week run-up, May had earned the moniker “Maybot” for her robotic performances. Corbyn said yesterday May should step down and he wanted to form a minority government. He said: “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.”
With 649 of 650 seats declared, the Conservatives had won 318 seats and Labour 261 followed by the pro- independence Scottish National Party on 34. The shock result thrust Northern Ireland’s centre-right DUP into the role of kingmaker, with its 10 seats enough to give the Conservatives a fragile but workable partnership.
With the complex talks on the divorce from the EU due to start in 10 days, it was unclear whether the so-called “Hard Brexit” taking Britain out of a single market could still be pursued. – Reuters
A protester wears a Theresa May mask in London, yesterday.
Votes cast in the general election are counted in Islington in London, just after the polls closed on Thursday.