British elections

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

Mrs May's chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned yesterday after Conservative Party MPs issued an ultimatum. British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a statement outside 10 Downing Street last Friday after the general election a da
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a statement outside 10 Downing Street last Friday after the general election a day earlier ended in a hung Parliament with the Conservative Party unable to gain a majority.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mrs May's chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned yesterday after Conservative Party MPs issued an ultimatum. British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a statement outside 10 Downing Street last Friday after the general election a da
Mrs May's chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned yesterday after Conservative Party MPs issued an ultimatum. PHOTO: REUTERS

Theresa May's dismay mounts as two top advisers resign, EU leaders remind her that Brexit talks cannot be delayed

British Prime Minister Theresa May, her own job on the line after a disastrous election, lost her two top advisers as she struggled to save her government while trying to get her Cabinet together.

Yesterday morning, Conservative Party MPs issued an ultimatum demanding that Mrs May sack her chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, or face a leadership challenge. By midday, both resigned.

Both have been blamed for her failed campaign, while Mr Timothy also drew up the controversial manifesto that many Conservative members said cost the party dearly in last Thursday's general election.

Mrs May had called a surprise snap election in April, believing she could increase her party's majority in Westminster and quell opposition. Her political gamble backfired dramatically when her party could not secure a majority of 326 seats, leading to a hung Parliament.

Last Friday, a desperate Mrs May courted Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won 10 parliamentary seats. The number, when combined with the Tories' 318 seats, would allow Mrs May to form a minority government. Yesterday, she sent a team of officials to Belfast to negotiate the alliance.

Some Tory MPs are uncomfortable with her sharing the bed with the DUP, a right-wing populist party that opposes same-sex marriage and reform of strict abortion laws.

Popular Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay, was among the first to speak out, saying she had asked Mrs May for assurance that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the rest of the country would be protected, and the party would work to advance gay rights in Northern Ireland. She said she received the assurance.

Mrs May will also have the unenviable task of striking a balance between the DUP's desire for a softer Brexit and the demands of those on the right of her party, who want a clean break from the European Union (EU).

The DUP's manifesto also targets some Tory policies. For instance, it wants to retain a "triple lock" on pensions, and a winter-fuel allowance, both of which the Conservatives have vowed to drop.

There are also fears that the Conservative-DUP alliance could endanger the Northern Irish peace process as the Conservatives would no longer be viewed as non-partisan facilitators of the process, which could scupper ongoing talks to reach a power-sharing agreement in the province.

Adding to Mrs May's multiple woes is the looming start date of the Brexit negotiations. EU leaders reminded her that talks due to start on June 19 cannot be delayed.

"We are ready for the negotiations. We want to do it quickly, respecting the calendar," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MPs already furious that Mrs May called an unnecessary election which caused the party to lose 13 seats got more riled up last Friday when Mrs May, in her speech outside 10 Downing Street, did not acknowledge the party's poor electoral showing and the MPs who lost their seats.

She later apologised to her colleagues, and said she would reflect on the election results.

Late last Friday, she reappointed key Cabinet ministers: Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Parliament meets on Tuesday, when Mrs May's new government will face a vote of confidence. Her government then needs to collect enough votes to get its programme of proposed new laws passed in the Queen's Speech on June 19.

A rejuvenated Labour Party under Mr Jeremy Corbyn is also putting together an alternative programme in the Queen's Speech, should Mrs May prove unable to govern.

Mr Corbyn defied all expectations by leading his party to gain 30 seats and 40 per cent of the vote share, compared with the Tories' 42.4 per cent.

Labour now has 262 seats in the House of Commons, including London's Kensington, which was the last to declare its results.

Kensington, a long-time Conservative stronghold and the country's richest constituency, went to Labour by a razor-thin margin of 20 votes after three recounts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Mayday, Mayday, Mayday'. Print Edition | Subscribe