London: UK Prime Minister Theresa May bought herself a stay of execution by apologizing to her own lawmakers for the election debacle as she prepared to meet Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to secure the votes needed to prop up her minority government.
She told Conservative lawmakers that she takes full responsibility for the disastrous result, which cost the party its majority, and will stay on only for as long as she’s wanted. She also signalled she’s willing to rethink her approach to Brexit.
At a private meeting with rank-and-file lawmakers Monday evening May pledged to consult the party more over policy and said she will seek a national consensus on Brexit in a bid to heal divisions over the best approach to leaving the European Union. Accounts of the discussions were given by 17 members of Parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the meeting.
“I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who will get us out of it," May said, according to two lawmakers who were present.
May called the snap election when she had a 20 percentage-point lead over the opposition Labour Party as she sought an increased majority and thus a freer hand in the Brexit talks. After a campaign marked by policy and presentational blunders, she emerged needing to do a deal with the DUP to get legislation through the House of Commons. Thirty-two Tories lost their seats.
May will meet DUP leader Arlene Foster in London on Tuesday as she seeks to thrash out an agreement for the party’s 10 lawmakers in the House of Commons to vote to back the Conservatives’ program for government.
May acknowledged the need for a broader consensus in the party on Brexit and recognized a range of views, a pro-EU lawmaker said on leaving the meeting. May’s office later announced that Joyce Anelay, a member of the House of Lords who voted to stay in the EU, has been appointed as a minister in the Brexit department, while David Jones, who favoured leaving the bloc, will leave.
George Bridges, another Brexit minister, quit the department, the Times of London reported, leaving Brexit secretary David Davis with a new team just a week before negotiations with the EU are due to start.
May will visit Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday as she tries to give the impression of business continuing as usual in spite of her troubles at home. The two leaders will later attend a soccer match between their two countries.
The UK was warned by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that it risks crashing out of the EU without a deal if it “wastes" much more of the two years put aside for the divorce talks.
“My preoccupation is that time is passing, it is passing quicker than anyone believes because the subjects we have to deal with are extraordinarily complex," Barnier told newspapers including the Financial Times. “I can’t negotiate with myself."
‘That mea culpa’
With speculation swirling around Parliament about how long she could cling to her job, the prime minister forced a smile to reporters as she entered the showdown with lawmakers in a committee room in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon. She left to cheers after a 75-minute session of questions and answers, described by lawmakers as assured.
“I’ve not had anyone say let’s have another election," pro-Brexit lawmaker Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in an interview after the meeting. “Once she’d made that concession, that mea culpa, the room really warmed up."
The embattled 60-year-old premier said she had served the Conservative Party since the age of 12 and will continue to do so as long as she is wanted.
Flanked by bodyguards and officials, wearing a white-and-black jacket and a steely expression, May walked along the corridor to the meeting room through a throng of about 40 journalists without saying a word. The room was packed with lawmakers and government officials, including foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond was squeezed in at the back. Brexit campaigner Michael Gove, whom May surprisingly reappointed to the cabinet Sunday as environment secretary, was also present along with other notable figures from both sides of the Brexit debate, such as Europhile Ken Clarke and Euro-skeptic trade secretary Liam Fox.
May said she’d spoken to all those who lost their seats, and the party is going to help them find new jobs. One person attending said her performance contained none of the “Maybot," a reference to the prime minister’s robotic stump speeches in which she repeated the same slogans again and again. Bloomberg