British Prime Minister Theresa May will call on angry lawmakers from her party to support her during a critical meeting Monday, as she battles to hang on to power following disastrous election results.
The prime minister’s gamble in calling last Thursday’s snap election, in a bid to consolidate her Conservative party’s power, failed catastrophically, resulting in the party losing its parliamentary majority, while its main rival, Labour, performed strongly. With the Conservatives unable to govern on their own, the party is looking to secure support from Northern Ireland’s right-wing Democratic Unionist Party in order to govern.
May had hoped to strengthen her government’s hand in negotiations with the European Union over the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc, due to start in days. Instead, the unnecessary election has cost May control of her party, of Parliament, and of government policy, at one of the most critical junctures in the country’s recent history.
She now faces a vital meeting at 5 p.m. (12 p.m. ET) with backbench members of Parliament from her party — the so-called 1922 Committee — calling for their loyalty amid swirling speculation that her leadership is in jeopardy. If she fails to convince them, calls are likely to mount for her to step aside, and a leadership contest could be triggered if 15 percent of MPs write to the head of the 1922 Committee saying they have no confidence in her.
“Dead woman walking”
The beleaguered prime minister was described as a “dead woman walking” Sunday by former Conservative MP George Osborne, who was sacked as chancellor by May last year. “[The question] is just how long she is going to remain on death row. I think we will know very shortly,” he told the BBC.
But publicly, at least, key Conservative figures are calling on the party’s lawmakers to rally behind the embattled leader and end the political chaos ahead of the crucial Brexit talks.
Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, told Sky News that he didn’t “see any clamor from my colleagues for a leadership election” and that his priority was “to make sure that we form a good, reliable, responsible government under Theresa May’s leadership. Obviously what happens in the distant future is for another day.”
But he said his Conservative colleagues were “massively disappointed” after the election debacle, and that May needed to lead in a “much more collegiate” fashion.
Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit Foreign Secretary who is viewed as one of the most likely potential challengers, responded to speculation that he was plotting a leadership bid with a newspaper column calling on his colleagues to rally behind May.
While the bruising election campaign had not gone well, he wrote, “May led a campaign that inspired 13.7 million people to vote Conservative, in the biggest total tally of Tory votes since the days of Margaret Thatcher. That is a stunning achievement, for which she deserves the support of her party. And she will certainly get it from me.”
“Hard Brexit” under threat
In a bid to bolster support, May scrambled to make changes to her Cabinet and advisory team over the weekend, sacking Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her two closest advisers, who had been unpopular among Conservative figures and widely blamed for contributing to May’s much-maligned bunkered, aloof leadership style.
And significant changes to her policy platform are likely if she survives. David Davis, the government’s Brexit minister, said Monday that the government would likely have to “prune” some of its more unpopular manifesto policies. The proposals in question include changes to social care for the elderly, dubbed a “dementia tax” by opponents, and a vote to repeal the ban on fox hunting, which proved unnecessary own goals for the government on the campaign trail.
The disastrous showing at the polls has also cast a cloud over May’s vision for a “hard Brexit” from the E.U. – in which Britain would leave Europe’s single market and customs union – raising the prospect that a more pragmatic approach, prioritizing close trade links over controlling immigration, might be on the cards.
Officials indicated Monday that the ongoing chaos will also likely cause a delay in the “Queen’s Speech” – the centerpiece act of political pageantry, written by ministers and delivered by the monarch, that marks the start of the parliamentary year by laying out the government’s legislative priorities for the incoming parliament.
The prime minister’s official spokesman declined to confirm that the speech would happen on June 19 as previously announced, raising speculation that continued wrangling between the Conservatives and the DUP on policy issues would delay the speech. Traditionally written on vellum, the Queen’s Speech is now written on parchment paper in ink, which takes several days to dry, before it is bound into a booklet and signed by the queen – meaning its contents need to be finalized days before the speech is delivered.