Theresa May seals deal to prop up minority government

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and DUP leader Arlene Foster (right)

British Prime Minister Theresa May secured a deal on Saturday to prop up her minority government but looked increasingly isolated after a botched election gamble plunged Britain into crisis days before the start of talks on leaving the European Union.

Her Conservatives struck an outline deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for support on key legislation. It was a humiliating outcome after an election that May had intended to strengthen her ahead of the Brexit push.

Instead, voters stripped the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority. As May struggled to contain the fallout, her two closest aides resigned.

Reports said foreign minister Boris Johnson and other leading party members were weighing leadership challenges. But Johnson said he backed May.

May called the early election in April, when opinion polls suggested she was set for a sweeping win.

May’s aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill quit on Saturday following sustained criticism within the party of the campaign.

Gavin Barwell was named new chief of staff. The Conservative lawmaker lost his seat on Thursday and has experience working as a party enforcer in parliament.

The change was unlikely to significantly quell unrest within the party. Most of May’s cabinet members have kept quiet on the issue of her future, adding to speculation that her days as prime minister are numbered.

MORE COMPLICATED

The DUP, whose 10 seats in the new parliament give May just enough support to pass legislation, agreed in principle to a “confidence and supply” arrangement, Downing Street said.

That means it will support a Conservative minority government on key votes in parliament without a formal coalition deal.

Still the deal with the DUP risks upsetting the political balance in Northern Ireland. It aligns London more closely with the pro-British side in the divided province, where a power-sharing government with Irish nationalists is suspended.

The DUP arrangement falls short of a full coalition agreement because of concerns among some Conservative lawmakers about the socially conservative DUP’s positions on gay rights, abortion and climate change.

The turmoil engulfing May has increased the chance that Britain will fall out of the EU in 2019 without a deal. Previously, she said she wanted to take Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union in order to cut immigration.

May’s party is deeply divided over what it wants from Brexit. The election result means businesses still have no idea what trading rules they can expect in the coming years.

May has said Brexit talks will begin on June 19 as scheduled, the same day as the formal reopening of parliament. She confirmed this to German leader Angela Merkel in a phone call on Saturday.

She also reiterated that she would seek a reciprocal agreement early in the talks on rights of EU and British citizens, Downing Street said.

“SHE’S STAYING – FOR NOW”

Britain’s largely pro-Conservative press questioned whether May could remain in power.

“She’s staying, for now,” one Conservative Party source told reporters.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson, asked about her future, said: “Let’s see how it pans out.”

May had repeatedly ruled out the need for a new election before changing her mind. Labour stunned even its own supporters by taking enough seats from the Conservatives to deny them a majority.

 

Zainab Sa’id