LONDON: Theresa May told Conservative lawmakers on Monday she would serve as prime minister as long as they wanted her after a botched election gamble cost the party its majority in parliament and weakened Britain’s hand days before formal Brexit negotiations.
With British politics thrust into the deepest turmoil since last June’s shock Brexit vote, EU leaders were left wondering how divorce talks would open next week.
Despite her party’s expectations of a landslide victory May lost her majority in parliament, pushing her into rushed talks on a support agreement with a small eurosceptic Northern Irish Protestant party with 10 parliamentary seats.
May faced her lawmakers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee on Monday. Despite anger at the election, she was cheered briefly at the start of the meeting, Reuters reporters said.
“She said ‘I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it,’” one Conservative lawmaker said after the meeting. “She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”
Lawmakers, who are by tradition not named at such meetings, told Reuters that there were no dissenting voices and that the party had no appetite for a leadership election.
May appeared contrite, sought to apologise for her failed election gamble and gave an explanation of what went wrong.
While some members of her party have said she will have to go eventually, May is expected to stay on as prime minister at least for now.
Queen’s Speech delayed
Her spokesman insisted her position on Brexit remained unchanged but Scottish Conservatives were pushing for her to move the focus onto economic growth and away from immigration, sources in the Scottish branch of party said.
EU talks might not begin on June 19 as expected, Brexit minister David Davis said and the Queen’s Speech, due on the same day in which the government traditionally spells out its policy plans, has also been delayed, the BBC reported.
May wants to negotiate the divorce and the future trading relationship with the EU before Britain leaves in March 2019, followed by what she calls a phased implementation process to give business time to prepare for the impact of the divorce.
But her election failure means she must now go into Britain’s most complex negotiations since World War Two with her eye firmly on the different factions within her Conservative Party,
which has been divided over EU membership for a generation.
Opponents of a sharp break include Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives who helped the party win 12 more seats in Scotland in contrast to losses elsewhere. She has called for a closer relationship with the EU after Brexit.
“There can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward,” Davidson told reporters in London after meeting May. “What’s clear is that there is going to be a real imperative on the economic impact of Brexit — to make sure that Brexit works for the whole country, to make that we’re able to pursue free trade,” Davidson said.
May’s spokesman said it remained government policy to cut net migration to under 100,000 and Brexit Minister David Davis also said walking away without securing a deal with the remaining 27 EU states remained a possibility.
While Britons voted by 52 to 48 per cent for Brexit in last year’s referendum, Scots strongly backed staying in the bloc and Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister in Scotland’s devolved assembly, said a so-called Hard Brexit was “dead in the water”.