British PM Theresa May facing calls to quit after speech that went wrong

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Oct 4, 2017.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Oct 4, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – British  Prime Minister Theresa May is losing the confidence of her colleagues and should consider stepping down, a former minister suggested, after a key speech aimed at revitalising her leadership descended into chaos.

Conservative lawmaker Ed Vaizey is the first member of Parliament since the speech to publicly air concerns about May continuing as leader, adding that he believed many of his colleagues feel the same. Vaizey was a culture minister under May’s predecessor and left when David Cameron resigned.

If more Tories join him on the record in asking her to go, May’s position could become untenable. Speaking anonymously, one tory lawmaker said May should resign now to allow a new leader to be elected because she would lead the party to defeat at the next election. The Tory expressed hope that colleagues would speak to May to urge her to step down over the weekend.

“I think there will be quite a few people who will now be pretty firmly of the view that she should resign,” Vaizey told BBC Oxford in an interview on Thursday, when asked whether May should step aside. “In private people are very concerned. It is a difficult situation.”

However, Sky news reported on Thursday that May  is not considering resigning,  citing her Downing Street office. 

A spokesman for PM May did not comment on the report and a spokesman for the Conservative Party also declined comment. 

The pound fell against most major peers as May’s leadership came under question and the crisis comes at a sensitive time for Brexit talks, and risks further postponing any progress.

May had just won some goodwill from EU partners with her concessions in Florence, giving some momentum to talks. Discussions are meant to resume in Brussels on Monday, and EU counterparts will be struggling to understand who is calling the shots in London.

The Prime Minister is struggling to reassert her authority after she gambled on an early election in June. Instead of boosting May’s party’s power in Parliament, the vote cost the Tories their majority in the House of Commons. In an attempt to reboot her leadership, she apologised for the election fiasco in a speech to the Tory party conference on Wednesday.

Yet that address was overshadowed by a succession of mishaps, after a prankster interrupted her to handed her a P45 form, the paperwork people receive when they leave their jobs.

She then struggled to contain a coughing fit for the remainder of her speech, repeatedly pausing to sip water and suck a throat drop. As a final indignity, the letters of the Tory slogan began to fall off the stage set behind her.

CABINET SUPPORTIVE?

May has received public backing from members of her Cabinet, including Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary who had been criticised for undermining her leadership with his own rival Brexit agenda.

Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, also praised the “guts and grace” the Prime Minister showed during her speech in Manchester. He told BBC Radio’s Today program that the party needs to concentrate on being “effective and cool-headed” in government and that there would be no patience with any “distractions.”

Other Tories were also supportive. “Theresa’s main task is to get us out of the EU with the best deal; anything that takes attention from that purpose is unhelpful to her, to the people and the country,” said Conservative member of Parliament Bill Wiggin, in an interview. “We don’t want to strengthen Michel Barnier’s hand during the negotiations.” 

In his interview, Vaizey, who supported staying in the EU at last year’s referendum, said the Conservative Party is “split down the middle” on Brexit “and that’s very bad for the country.” “The Tory party conference was the great opportunity to re-boot the party and therefore re-boot the country to give a clear sense of direction and that didn’t happen so yes I am concerned. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to see a way forward at the moment and it worries me.”