Britain's PM May to face her party amid post-election tumult

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By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
| LONDON

LONDON Prime Minister Theresa May must convince her Conservative lawmakers on Monday that she should stay as party leader after an election gamble that has plunged British politics into chaos a week before formal talks to leave the European Union begin.

Unable to govern without support after the snap election, she has yet to secure the backing of a eurosceptic Northern Irish party with 10 parliamentary seats.

The outcome of last week’s vote has also thrown into doubt what Britain would seek from Brexit talks with the EU, complex negotiations which will have profound implications for the world’s fifth largest economy.

May will attend a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative lawmakers on Monday, some of whom have called for her to be ousted.

However, despite anger from some at the shock result, May’s position appears safe, at least for the immediate future.

“I don’t detect any great appetite amongst my colleagues for presenting the public with a massive additional dose of uncertainty by getting involved in a self-indulgent Conservative Party internal election campaign,” Graham Brady, the 1922 committee chairman, told BBC TV.

“SOFTER BREXIT”

EU talks might not begin on June 19 as expected as May sets out her new policy program that day, Brexit minister David Davis said. The negotiations are supposed to conclude by March 2019 when Britain leaves, an ambitious-looking date even before the election debacle cast doubt on what UK strategy would be.

May had planned a clean break from the EU, involving withdrawal from Europe’s single market and customs union but some Conservatives and opponents hope the election shock will lead to a “softer” Brexit, which prioritizes close trade links over controlling immigration.

One of those is Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives who helped the party win 12 more seats in contrast to losses elsewhere, one of the few whose personal stature was enhanced by the result.

Ratings agency Moody’s and Ireland’s prime minister designate Leo Varadkar also said the election made the opportunity of a “soft Brexit” more likely, but Davis downplayed the chances of Britain staying in the single market.

“The interpretation that we have put on it … is that people voted for three things in essence, control of borders, control of laws, control of money,” Davis told BBC radio.

“In order to deliver that you can’t do that inside the single market, so what do you do, you try and have the best possible access from outside.”

May’s spokesman said it remained government policy to cut net migration to under 100,000 and Davis also said walking away without securing a deal with the remaining 27 EU states remained a possibility.

DUP DEAL

Before the government can do anything it must finalize a deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

May is due to meet its leader Arlene Foster on Tuesday.

In an article in the Belfast Telegraph, Foster listed three priorities, including getting Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing government at Stormont working again.

“We stood on a clear policy platform of wanting to strengthen the Union, of working for a good deal for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the EU, and of promising to do our best to get Stormont up and running again for the benefit of all,” Foster wrote.

“We will use the position we find ourselves in to do as we promised.”

Davis, who said that some policies in the government’s program would now be pruned back, was one of a number of senior Conservatives to publicly pledge loyalty to May.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is touted as the favorite to replace May should she be forced out, called on colleagues to rally behind her.

In a cabinet reshuffle, and May appointed Michael Gove, with whom she has clashed in the past, as environment minister and two of May’s closest aides, who many blamed for the election result, resigned in a bid to quell dissent.

However, George Osborne, a former finance minister who is now editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper and a vocal critic of May, said she appeared a “dead woman walking”.

The uncertainty has hit business confidence, according to a survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD). It found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence from its last survey in May.

The pound slid to its lowest level for nearly two months after the vote, but the fall was much less severe than the one sparked by the Brexit vote in June 2016. On Monday, the currency was under pressure once again.

“The UK has had a reputation, earned over the generations, for stability and predictability in its government,” said a senior executive at a multi-national company listed on the London FTSE 100, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“That reputation in 12 months has been destroyed, truly destroyed. First by Brexit and now through this election. That has really profound implications for multinational businesses that have made a long-term bet on London being the sensible place to base themselves.”

(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary, Kylie MacLellan, William James, Alistair Smout and James Davey; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Louise Ireland)



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