(USA Today) London — British Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday (June 9) she will try to form a governing partnership with Northern Ireland’s small party in the wake of an election setback that cost her Conservatives a majority in Parliament.
“This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks … and deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union,” May said.
May’s statement on working with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) followed a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, where she asked the monarch for permission to form a new government. British media reported that there will be no formal coalition as neither party thinks it is necessary.
Michael Geary, a fellow at the Wilson Center think tank, said: “The Conservatives will remain the biggest party and will mostly likely govern alone albeit with DUP support from the backbenches.”
With virtually all the votes counted, the Conservatives won 319 seats, seven short of a majority in the House of Commons and 12 fewer than they had going into the election. The Labour Party won 261 seats, a gain of 29, while the Scottish National Party wound up with 35, a loss of 21. The Northern Ireland party won 10 seats, enough to give May a majority under a partnership in Parliament.
The outcome was a significant political embarrassment for May, who called for an early election in April based on polls that showed the Conservatives would increase their majority and give her more clout in difficult talks with the European Union on terms for exiting the alliance.
Instead, May will enter the talks that begin June 19 in a weakened position. EU leaders have vowed to make Britain pay a steep price for abandoning them, a process that will take two years.
British voters narrowly approved a referendum a year ago to exit the EU, and Thursday’s election raised the prospect that the loss of Conservative seats represented buyers remorse over the Brexit decision.
May became prime minister after David Cameron, who had campaigned against Brexit, stepped down following the referendum, in which 52% voted to leave the 28-nation EU.
Looking tense as she delivered remarks after being re-elected to her Maidenhead constituency, 30 miles west of London, May said, “The country needs a period of stability and whatever the result the Conservative Party will ensure that we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who surprised members of his party with a stronger than expected campaign performance, called for May to resign. He had struck a chord with voters by assailing May for slashing popular domestic programs, including education, health and welfare, and for eliminating 20,000 police jobs that he linked to three recent terror attacks on British soil.
Speaking at his north London constituency’s election headquarters, Corbyn said May called the election to get a new mandate and the “mandate she got was one of lost support.” He said it was time for her “to go.”
Several of May’s party colleagues also suggested May consider stepping down. “This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “And our leader needs to take stock as well.”
The British pound fell more than 2% to $1.2642 yesterday, as markets reacted to the political uncertainty of the election results.
“Theresa May has put Brexit in jeopardy,” said Paul Nuttall, the leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party. “I said at the start this election was wrong. Hubris.”
Nuttall quit as UKIP leader later yesterday, after the party failed to win any seats.
During the campaign, May vowed to build a “stronger, fairer and more prosperous Britain,” while Corbyn’s signature campaign slogan was to govern “for the many, not the few.”
The impact of the election on Britain’s EU talks was unclear. Speaking yesterday on Europe 1 radio, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he doesn’t believe British voters have changed their minds about leaving the bloc.
“These are discussions that will be long and that will be complex. So let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “I’m not sure that we should read, from the results of this vote, that Britons’ sovereign decision on Brexit has been cast into doubt in any way.”
Top: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves a polling station after casting her ballot west of London, on June 8, 2017. Ben Stansall, AFP/Getty Images via USA Today
Inset: Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster says she will speak to Theresa May. Photo:CNN
SOURCE: USA Today written by Kim Hjelmgaard and Jane Onyanga-Omara