May Digs In as U.K. Premier After Election DebacleBy , , and
Calls for May to quit as prime minister following shock losses
Labour gains under Jeremy Corbyn lead to a hung Parliament
Theresa May launched a fightback to hold on to her premiership following a disastrous election that cost her party its parliamentary majority and, with it, the right to rule the U.K. on its own.
Faced with calls to resign, May moved fast to bolster her position. She held talks Friday morning with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, reaching a quick understanding before heading off to seek Queen Elizabeth II’s permission to form a government. With votes still being counted, May’s officials said she plans on naming Cabinet ministers later in the day.
The premier is fighting for her political life after she gambled on an early U.K. election and lost, plunging the country’s government into chaos and throwing doubt on talks to leave the European Union. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and some in her own Conservative Party are calling on her to quit after Thursday’s election resulted in a hung Parliament.
May opted for a snap election to boost her parliamentary majority and strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks due to begin in just 10 days. Instead, her Conservatives were on course to win 318 seats, down from the 330 she held at the start of the campaign and short of the 326 seats she needs for an overall majority. Labour will take 261 seats, a gain of 29 seats, according to BBC projections with just one seat left to declare.
Corbyn responded by making his own bid to govern, saying that Labour was “ready to serve this country.”
An alliance with the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party is the most obvious route to continued Conservative rule. Yet as May set off to Buckingham Palace, her future was far from certain. She remains vulnerable and her position will be in peril if any senior minister refuses to serve in her government or calls on her to resign.
As a result, it’s still unclear whether May will be able to hold on and lead the U.K. into talks with the EU that will determine the country’s future prosperity.
“At this time, more than anything else, this country needs a period of stability,” May said early Friday morning in her electoral district of Maidenhead, west of London, her voice at times shaking. “If, as the indications have shown, the Conservative Party has won the most votes and the most seats, it will be incumbent on us to ensure that period of stability and that’s what we will do.”
Sterling tumbled the most since October as investors were confronted with another spasm of political turmoil less than a year after Britain voted to quit the EU, its biggest trading partner. The pound dropped as much as 2.1 percent before reversing some of those losses. It was trading at $1.2776 at 12:31p.m. in London. The FTSE 100 Index was up 0.4 percent.
May called the election seven weeks ago expecting to win a landslide, but instead managed to squander the commanding lead she enjoyed at the outset with a gaffe-prone campaign that focused in large part on her vision of a post-Brexit Britain outside the EU’s single market. That “extreme version of Brexit” was rejected by voters, according to Keir Starmer, the Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman.
“I think hard Brexit went in the rubbish bin tonight,” said George Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer whom May sacked after he played a leading role in the campaign to remain in the EU.
The election result is another reminder of just how disillusioned voters are with the political establishment in Europe and the U.S. following Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the implosion of France’s main parties in the presidential election.
“Politics has changed and politics isn’t going back into the box where it was before -- because what’s happened is people have said they’ve had quite enough of austerity politics,” Corbyn said after retaining his seat in north London, and called on May to quit.
“The prime minister called the election because she wanted a mandate, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support,” the Labour leader said. “That’s enough to go.”
In an election full of surprises, the constituency of Canterbury, which has been held by the Conservatives for more than a century, fell to Labour; Ben Gummer, who co-wrote the Conservative manifesto and was tipped to become Brexit secretary after the election, lost his seat in Ipswich, eastern England; while former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond, the former Scottish National Party leader, were also defeated.
Live Coverage on Bloomberg TV:
The SNP took 35 seats, down from 56 in 2015, and the Liberal Democrats may get 13, up from 8, the forecast showed. In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican party Sinn Fein won 7 seats while the Democratic Unionist Party took 10 seats.
“We need to wait and see what decision Theresa May takes on her own future and then we’ll reflect on it going forward,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News. “What we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union.”
One of the campaign’s revelations was the success of Corbyn, who had been dismissed as unelectable by some members of his own party at the start of the campaign.
May, who promised “strong and stable” leadership, had a disastrous election. She reversed a policy on care for the elderly -- dubbed the “dementia tax” by Labour -- when it proved unpopular and refused to appear in TV debates with Corbyn.
“She needs to consider her position,” said Anna Soubry, an anti-Brexit Conservative lawmaker. “It’s a dreadful night. I’ve lost some remarkable friends.”
The election throws up major questions about Brexit. Talks with EU leaders may now need to be delayed, further eroding the time that Britain has to clinch a deal before it leaves the bloc in March 2019.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, offered some space, saying in a tweet that the talks “should start when U.K. is ready.”
— With assistance by Svenja O'Donnell