Embattled U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May scraped together a government by reaching a deal with a Northern Irish party, while one newspaper said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is preparing to vie for her job after the Conservative party’s disastrous election showing.
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Johnson plans to take advantage of May’s weakened state to launch a bid to become Prime Minister, the Mail on Sunday reported, citing a close ally of Johnson. The foreign secretary called the report “tripe” in a tweet and said he was supporting May.
Clinging on for now, May reached a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to support the Conservatives in parliament. Their 10 lawmakers give her a working majority after her own party failed to win enough seats to govern by itself.
May, whose two key aides resigned amid anger about how they handled the campaign, leads a brittle government as the U.K. prepares to start talks on exiting the European Union. She told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call Saturday she would start Brexit talks as planned in the next couple of weeks, according to a Downing Street statement.
Her determination to push ahead with Brexit negotiations came as a survey for YouGov carried on the front page of the Sunday Times showed 48 percent of Britons think May should resign and that she has drawn even with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in terms of who they think would be the better prime minister.
May could face a leadership challenge as soon as Tuesday if she fails to rally a meeting of her lawmakers that day, while five cabinet ministers
are urging Johnson to oust her, the Sunday Times reported. It also said Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is pushing her to prioritize jobs and the economy in the Brexit talks.
Mounting criticism and a spirit of vendetta claimed the scalps of two of May’s closest advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, who resigned in the wake of the snap election that wiped out the Tories’ parliamentary majority. Johnson previously had his eyes on the top job in 2016, but stepped aside after his campaign manager Michael Gove nominated himself and said Johnson didn’t have what it took to be leader.
The deal with the DUP in Northern Ireland is on a “confidence and supply” basis, which means the party would lend its support to block no confidence votes and pass budgets. The deal could see May accept some DUP policy proposals in exchange for their support, similar to the Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance in 1977.
The talks with Conservative Party representatives have been positive and will continue next week to work on the details, and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new parliament, the DUP said in a statement.
Founded by Protestant fireband Ian Paisley at the height of The Troubles in the early 1970s, the DUP is likely to ask for more money to be spent on the region, as well as specific concessions.
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Anger in May’s ranks is palpable, with some prominent members uncomfortable with the plan to form a parliamentary alliance with the pro-Brexit DUP. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, expressed those doubts publicly on Friday evening after speaking to May.
“I was fairly straightforward with her and I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party,” Davidson told the BBC.
Spread the Blame
Davidson also hinted the Tories would need to re-examine their Brexit strategy, which was at the heart of their election campaign. “There’s an awful lot of issues around Brexit that need to be discussed with other parties,” she told Sky News on Saturday.
In her phone call with Merkel, May said the first Brexit talks would focus on reaching a “reciprocal agreement” on EU citizens living in the U.K. and British citizens living abroad. “at an early stage.”
In the article announcing his resignation, Timothy sought to spread the blame for the election failure. The campaign, he said, had failed to communicate May’s “positive plan for the future.” That’s a dig at Lynton Crosby, who ran the Tory strategy.
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Timothy said the party hadn’t noticed the surge in Labour support “because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.” That barb was aimed at Jim Messina, the online guru who worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and ran voter identification and targeting for May.
Earlier, May’s former head of communications launched a series of brutal attacks on the prime minister’s decision to place so much trust in her two chiefs of staff and her inability to connect with voters or the rest of the party.
“If you have those weaknesses within you, you hire people that can do these things for you,” Katie Perrior said in an interview with BBC radio. “I’m afraid she didn’t have those qualities herself, but she hired people that didn’t have them either.”