Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

May Gains Northern Irish Support as Trouble Brews in London

  • Democratic Unionist Party has agreed to back Conservatives
  • Prime Minister facing Tory rebellion, advisers fall on sword

The Conservative Party has agreed on the principles of a deal with a Northern Irish party to keep embattled Prime Minister Theresa May’s government intact, after it failed to gain a majority in Thursday’s election.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 lawmakers in Westminster, has agreed to support the Conservatives by voting in favor of their policy when needed, a Downing Street spokesman said Saturday in a statement. The details of the agreement will be discussed in a cabinet meeting Monday.

The announcement means May, who called the election to “strengthen her hand” ahead of Brexit talks, has the working majority she needs to continue in government following the disastrous election outcome. The deal is on a “confidence and supply” basis, which means the party would lend its support to block no confidence votes and pass budgets.

Gavin Williamson

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

May’s chief whip, Gavin Williamson, flew to Belfast to hold talks with the party, which has so far said little about what it wants in return. The deal could see May accept some DUP policy proposals in exchange for their support, similar to the Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance in 1977.

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Back in London, mounting criticism and a spirit of vendetta claimed the scalps of two of May’s closest advisers, who resigned in the wake of the snap election that wiped out the Tories’ parliamentary majority and left the party shattered and bewildered.

The past 24 hours have left May exposed and vulnerable. She’s kept her five senior ministers in their positions, though few of them have publicly backed her since election night and all five are viewed as potential replacements.

Gavin Barwell, a former Conservative lawmaker who lost his seat in Thursday’s vote, was appointed as May’s new chief of staff Saturday evening, Downing Street confirmed.

In the meantime, European Union leaders showed May little sympathy with Brexit negotiations due to start in nine days. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she saw no reason to grant the U.K. a grace period. Others cannot help but gloat at May’s difficulties.

Sacrificial Pawns

Martin Selmayr, senior aide to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, compared the resignations of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, known for their sway over May, to the sacrifice of a pawn in a game of chess.

The Tories and the DUP are not seeking a formal coalition, of the sort Britain saw in 2010 under David Cameron. Instead, May is asking for some version of a “confidence and supply” agreement, under which the DUP agrees to support the government on finance and a few other key votes.

Founded by Protestant fireband Ian Paisley at the height of The Troubles in the early 1970s, the DUP is likely to ask for more money to be spent on the region, as well as specific concessions.

Ruth Davidson

Photographer: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Anger in May’s ranks is palpable, with some prominent members uncomfortable with the plan to form a parliamentary alliance with the pro-Brexit DUP. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, expressed those doubts publicly on Friday evening after speaking to May.

“I was fairly straightforward with her and I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party,” Davidson told the BBC.

Spread the Blame

Davidson also hinted the Tories would need to re-examine their Brexit strategy, which was at the heart of their election campaign. “There’s an awful lot of issues around Brexit that need to be discussed with other parties,” she told Sky News on Saturday.

In the article announcing his resignation, Timothy sought to spread the blame for the election failure. The campaign, he said, had failed to communicate May’s “positive plan for the future.” That’s a dig at Lynton Crosby, who ran the Tory strategy.

Timothy said the party hadn’t noticed the surge in Labour support “because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.” That barb was aimed at Jim Messina, the online guru who worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and ran voter identification and targeting for May.

Earlier, May’s former head of communications launched a series of brutal attacks on the prime minister’s decision to place so much trust in her two chiefs of staff and her inability to connect with voters or the rest of the party.

“If you have those weaknesses within you, you hire people that can do these things for you,” Katie Perrior said in an interview with BBC radio. “I’m afraid she didn’t have those qualities herself, but she hired people that didn’t have them either."

Read more: How May’s sure thing became a disaster for the ages

She criticized Hill and Timothy for being arrogant, and in a separate piece for the Times newspaper described some of Hill’s ideas as “batshit crazy.”

“May doesn’t need street fighters now, she needs people with charm and diplomacy to get her through the next few weeks and months,” she said.

In a final insult to May, the west London district of Kensington, which has the highest mean income in the country and has been a Conservative bastion for decades, went to the Labour Party by a margin of just 20 votes late on Friday. That leaves the Conservatives with 317 seats in Parliament out of 650.

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