Saturday, June 10, 2017

Theresa May's next move

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain leaving the Conservative Party headquarters in London on Friday. Credit Frank Augstein/Associated Press
Right Now Prime Minister Theresa May will try to form a minority government, after her Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority.
• Mrs. May’s decision to call an early election in the hopes of expanding the Conservative Party’s majority in the House of Commons disastrously backfired.
• Mrs. May, who became prime minister after the “Brexit” referendum on June 23, batted away calls to resign. After meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, she said she would try to form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
• With votes in nearly all of the 650 House of Commons constituencies counted, the Conservatives won 318 seats — short of the 326 needed for a majority. The Labour Party had 261 seats, the Scottish National Party 35 and the Liberal Democrats 12, with the remainder held by small parties.

Trump calls result ‘surprising’

President Trump had a simple, one-word answer when asked about his thoughts on the election results: “Surprising.”
Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, the leader of Britain’s strongest ally had little to say about the outcome, when asked by reporters during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Romania.

May apologizes to candidates and announces senior cabinet positions

Mrs. May apologized to former colleagues in the Conservative Party who lost seats in the House of Commons, telling the BBC she “obviously wanted a different result.”
“I am sorry for all those colleagues who lost their seats who didn’t deserve to lose, and, of course, I’ll reflect on what happened,” Mrs. May said in her first post-election interview.

She turned the focus instead on the negotiations to leave the European Union, set to begin in 10 days, detailing how she planned to enter those discussions with a government that has the “national interest” in mind “at this critical time for our country.”
Mrs. May also indicated she would delay any staffing changes in her administration. “What I am doing today is focusing on forming a government,” she said.
Downing Street later confirmed several senior cabinet positions would remain unchanged: chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon would all retain their roles.

Theresa May begins forming a government

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain at 10 Downing Street on Friday after announcing her plans to form a minority government. Credit Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mrs. May, who suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself without a majority in Parliament, said on Friday that she would work with “friends and allies” as she tries to form a government.
In a brief address outside her office at 10 Downing Street in London after she returned from a meeting with the queen at Buckingham Palace, Mrs. May made no reference to her party’s poor showing, nor to questions about her leadership.
What the country needs more than ever is certainty, and having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons.
Instead, she returned to themes that had dominated her campaign — negotiating a British withdrawal from the European Union and maintaining the country’s security, by cracking down on Islamist extremism and giving the police expanded powers.

Poor performance brings calls for May to step down

The news media outside 10 Downing Street on Friday. Credit Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the Conservative Party’s stunning setback had prominent political figures wondering about Mrs. May’s future. (If she were to resign, she would be the shortest-serving prime minister since Andrew Bonar Law, who served 209 days in 1922 and 1923.)
A former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, batted away the idea. “I think it would be a grave error to go into the turmoil of a leadership election,” he told the BBC, while acknowledging that Mrs. May had “found her position diminished.”
A former small business minister, Anna Soubry, said that Mrs. May should step aside. “We ran a pretty dreadful campaign,” she said.
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, condemned Mrs. May’s decision to press ahead. “Our Conservative prime minister rolled the dice and put the future of our country at risk, out of sheer arrogance and vanity,” he declared. “If she has an ounce of self-respect, she will resign.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, said her party would fight to “bring an end to the austerity that voters, the length and breadth of the U.K., are no longer prepared to accept.” She criticized the Conservative Party for calling the referendum to leave the bloc and for taking a gamble by calling an early election. “They’re planning to cobble together an unstable administration, causing yet more damaging uncertainty,” she said.

The D.U.P.: The new kingmakers

Arlene Foster, center, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, with her deputy, Nigel Dodds, left, in Belfast on Friday morning. Credit Niall Carson/Press Association, via Associated Press

The Democratic Unionist Party, which is historically composed of Protestants, supports Northern Ireland’s remaining in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland enjoys close commercial, economic and historical ties with the Republic of Ireland — a member of the European Union — and the D.U.P. favors a close relationship with the European Union, although it supported leaving the bloc.
“The prime minister has spoken with me this morning, and we will enter discussion with the Conservatives to explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge,” the party’s leader, Arlene Foster, said at a news conference in Belfast. She did not specify what the party had demanded in exchange for its support.
Ms. Foster vowed that the D.U.P., which won a third of all votes cast in Northern Ireland, would work to keep the United Kingdom together. “Those who want to tear apart the union that we cherish and benefit from so hugely have been sent a clear and resounding message,” she said, in a clear reference to parties that would like to see Northern Ireland leave the United Kingdom.

Why the Tories lost

A voter at a polling station in Ambleside, northwest England, on Thursday. Credit Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

John Curtice, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde and the BBC’s resident polling expert, said that Labour had benefited from a big shift in support from two groups: Young voters and people who voted to remain in the European Union. That more than offset the Conservatives’ gain from a sharp decline in support for the right-wing U.K. Independence Party.
The Labour Party seized a seat in Canterbury, in southeastern England, that the Conservatives had held since World War I. It took back the seat for Glasgow Northeast from the Scottish National Party. And it held on in Wales, a traditional stronghold.

The impact on ‘Brexit’

A flag manufacturer in Chesterfield, England. David Davis, the official assigned to oversee the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union, told the BBC that the Conservative Party might have to revisit its pledge to take Britain out of the European single market and customs union. Credit Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Talks between Britain and the 27 other members of the European Union are scheduled to begin on June 19, in accordance with the two-year process for departure from the bloc. Mrs. May had said she was calling the election to strengthen her party’s hand going into the negotiations. Instead, Britain will enter those talks substantially weakened and divided.
That could mean that Britain is willing to take a softer stance, one involving more concessions, in the talks. “ ‘Hard Brexit’ went in the rubbish bin tonight,” George Osborne, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, told ITV News. “Theresa May is probably going to be one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in our history.”
Mr. Davis, the official assigned to oversee the withdrawal, told the BBC that the Conservative Party might have to revisit its pledge to take Britain out of the European single market and customs union.
That would be a major concession, and it immediately evoked outrage from Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, an ardent backer of leaving the bloc and a persistent thorn in the side of the Conservatives. On Twitter, he was harshly critical of Mrs. May.

Ed Miliband, a former Labour Party leader, said it was impossible for Mrs. May to lead the negotiations.

However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-line euroskeptic Conservative, said he believed Mrs. May would continue leading the negotiations. “The prime minister is the prime minister,” he said.

Consistency from Brussels

The two-year clock on the negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union started ticking on March 29, and the message from European leaders after the election results became known was clear: Get on with it.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, expressed his hope that the talks would begin as scheduled. “As far as the commission is concerned, we can open negotiations tomorrow morning at half-past nine,” he said in Prague.
Before the election, Mrs. May had emphasized that Britain would be better off with no deal than a bad deal. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, the body representing the European Union’s national leaders, bluntly suggested that it would not be in the country’s best interest to revisit that theme.

Guy Verhofstadt, the chief coordinator on Britain’s exit from the bloc at the European Parliament and a former Belgian prime minister, saw some humor in the matter.

The Tories weren’t the only losers

An exit poll prediction for the Scottish National Party’s showing was projected onto BBC Broadcasting House in London on Thursday. The party, which made huge gains in 2015, is estimated to have lost 21 seats. Credit Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Scottish National Party, which made huge gains in 2015, lost 21 seats. Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s top lawmaker in the British Parliament, lost his seat. So did Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland and a leader in the push for Scottish independence, who entered the British Parliament only two years ago.
“We will reflect on the results, we will listen to voters, and we will consider very carefully the best way forward for Scotland,” Ms. Sturgeon said at a news conference on Friday.
Support for the U.K. Independence Party, which won more than 12 percent of the vote in the 2015 general election, collapsed to around 2 percent. The party once again failed to win a single seat in Parliament, and its leader, Paul Nuttall, lost in Boston and Skegness, a district where three in four voters opted last June to leave the European Union. He resigned as the party’s leader on Friday morning.
While Mrs. May was re-elected to her seat in Maidenhead, other ministers in her government were not so fortunate. Among the Conservative ministers who were toppled were Jane Ellison and Simon Kirby, who work in the Treasury; Ben Gummer, a cabinet office minister; Gavin Barwell, the housing minister; and James Wharton, an international development minister. Ms. Rudd, the home secretary, barely held on to her seat, in Hastings and Rye.
Nick Clegg, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, was ousted, but another former leader of the party, Vince Cable, won back a seat he had lost in the 2015 general election.

Turnout was high

Counting votes in Emirates Arena in Glasgow on Thursday. Credit Robert Perry/European Pressphoto Agency

As of 7 a.m., turnout was running at 68.7 percent, from an electorate of 46.8 million. It was the highest turnout for a British general election since 1997, when the Labour Party under Tony Blair won a historic victory — the first of three consecutive election wins.

The pound fell

The British pound fell sharply immediately after the release Thursday night of an exit poll that showed that the election would likely result in a hung Parliament.

As the results followed out that forecast, the currency has edged lower still. The pound was down more than 2 percent against the dollar, at $1.2656, its lowest level in about two months.

Echoes of 1974?

Prime Minister Edward Heath, shortly before resigning after the Conservatives failed to win a parliamentary majority in 1974. Credit Keystone/Getty Images

British commentators are already drawing comparisons with 1974, when the two dominant parties competed for voters against the backdrop of bitter divisions over European integration.
Britain joined the European Economic Community, a precursor to the European Union, in 1973. The Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, called a general election in February 1974, seeking a stronger mandate under the banner, “Who governs Britain?”
The vote resulted in a hung Parliament — in which the Labour Party had the most seats. Mr. Heath tried to form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party but failed. The new Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, called a second election, in October that same year, and won a small Labour majority.

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