Deal to keep Tories in power not done yet

The leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party says talks are ongoing with British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party with a view to supporting their minority government.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaving after a church service in Sonning, Britain, on June 11, 2017.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaving after a church service in Sonning, Britain, on June 11, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

PM May appears to have her ministers' support amid talk of leadership challenge

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May was still seeking a deal yesterday with a small Northern Irish party that she needs to stay in power after a disastrous election that destroyed her authority days before Brexit talks are due to start.

British media said moves were afoot in Mrs May's Conservative Party to dislodge her, while opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who exceeded expectations in the election, insisted she could be ousted and he could replace her.

"Theresa May is a dead woman walking. It's just how long she's going to remain on death row," former Conservative finance minister George Osborne told the BBC.

The Conservatives won 318 House of Commons seats in last Thursday's election, eight short of an outright majority. Labour, the main opposition party, won 262.

Mrs May's only hope of forming a government is to win the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won 10 seats. She is seeking a so-called confidence and supply deal, which would involve the DUP supporting the Conservatives on key votes but not joining a formal coalition.

Her Downing Street office initially said last Saturday that the "principles of an outline agreement" had been agreed with the DUP, only for the smaller party to contradict that hours later. Downing Street then backtracked, saying she had "discussed finalising" a deal in the coming week. DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News she would meet Mrs May at Downing Street tomorrow.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny yesterday expressed concern that a proposed alliance between the Conservatives and the DUP could pose a "challenge" to peace in the province, in a phone call with Mrs May.

The political turmoil comes as Britain is due to start negotiating next Monday terms of its exit from the European Union. Talks are to wrap up by the end of March 2019, when Britain actually leaves. This timeline now looks more ambitious, not least because Mrs May's electoral debacle has emboldened those in her own party opposed to her "hard Brexit" approach.

With the media asking if Mrs May could remain at Downing Street, ministers said now was not the time for a party leadership contest. "This is not the time for sharks to be circling. This is the time for us to come together as a party," Culture Minister Karen Bradley told Sky News.

But Conservative MP Anna Soubry said Mrs May's time in the top job would be limited, noting: "I just can't see how she can continue in any long-term way."

Several newspapers said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had been urged by supporters to launch a leadership challenge, but he called such reports "tripe" in a tweet, saying he backs Mrs May.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Deal to keep Tories in power not done yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe