Britain's May reaches power deal in battle to cling on

2017-06-11 12:10
British Prime Minister Theresa May (AFP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May (AFP)

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London - British Prime Minister Theresa May reached an "outline agreement" on Saturday with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party in order to be able to govern after a humiliating election that has left her authority in tatters.

She also confirmed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that Britain was ready to begin Brexit negotiations "as planned in the next couple of weeks", reassuring EU leaders who had expressed doubts after her heavy electoral losses.

May's Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in Thursday's election and now need the support of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland's DUP to pass votes, sparking widespread calls for her to resign.

"We can confirm that the Democratic Unionist Party have agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support the Conservative government," a spokesperson for May said.

He indicated this would not be a formal coalition but a minority government with looser DUP support on a "confidence and supply basis".

Sunday's newspapers were unsparing about May, with The Observer writing: "Discredited, humiliated, diminished. Theresa May has lost credibility and leverage in her party, her country and across Europe."

The Mail on Sunday reported that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was set to launch a bid to oust May, while the Sunday Times said five cabinet ministers were urging him to do so.

Johnson denied the reports as "tripe" and said: "I am backing Theresa May."

In the Sunday Mirror, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who scored hefty gains in the election, said there was still a chance for him to be prime minister if May failed to form a government.

"This is still on," he said, adding he would vote down the government's programme when it comes before parliament this month.

The details of the power deal with the DUP are set to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on Monday, a day before the new parliament is sworn in.

There was no mention of what concessions the DUP may have asked for, amid growing concern about the influence of a party opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

The DUP has proved hugely controversial in the past over the homophobic and sectarian views of some of its representatives.

Earlier on Saturday May lost her two closest aides as she struggled to reassert her leadership, having called an election three years early hoping to strengthen her hand going into Brexit negotiations - only to see the gamble backfire spectacularly.

Senior party figures have cautioned against any immediate leadership challenge, saying it would cause only further disruption as Britain prepares to start talks with Brussels as early as June 19.

But media reports suggest they had demanded the departure of May's joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, as the price for allowing the 60-year-old vicar's daughter to stay in office.

They were replaced by Gavin Barwell, a former housing minister who lost his seat in the election.

'DUP has got to go'

The resignations of Timothy and Hill, on whom May had been heavily reliant since her previous job at the interior ministry, will be a personal blow.

Timothy - a combative character who one former colleague said had helped create a "toxic" atmosphere at the heart of the government - said he took responsibility for the Conservative manifesto, including a plan for elderly social care that caused a backlash.

May is preparing to name the rest of her cabinet after revealing on Friday that her five most senior ministers would stay in their posts.

The Conservatives won 318 out of 650 seats - throwing away a 17-seat majority.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay, was among the first to express disquiet over a deal with the ultra-conservative DUP.

"I sought, and to be fair to the prime minister, received a categoric assurance that in talking to the DUP that there would be no suggestion of any rollback on LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK," she said.

Several hundred people - many Labour voters - protested in central London against the alliance, with chants of "racist, sexist, anti-gay, the DUP has got to go".

Joining forces with the hardline Protestant party also threatens London's neutrality in Northern Ireland, which is key to the delicate balance of power in a province once plagued by violence.

On Brexit, the DUP supports leaving the EU but opposes a return to a "hard" border with Ireland - which could happen if May carries through her threat to walk away from the talks rather than accept a "bad deal".

Her real test is likely to come when MPs vote on her programme after it is outlined in parliament by Queen Elizabeth II on June 19.

European Council President Donald Tusk has warned there is "no time to lose" in starting Brexit talks, after May on March 29 started the two-year countdown to ending Britain's four-decade membership.

Read more on:    theresa may  |  uk  |  politics

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