May Said to Tell Tories: ‘I’ll Get Us Out of This Mess’

Updated on
  • U.K. premier promised to seek national consensus on Brexit
  • Conservative leader said will serve as long as she’s wanted

May Clings to Power After the Election

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May bought herself a stay of execution by telling her own party she was sorry for the mess she made of last week’s election and promising to clean it up.

She told lawmakers from her Conservative Party that she takes full responsibility for the disastrous result and will stay on only for as long as she’s wanted. She also signaled she’s willing to rethink her approach to Brexit.

At a private meeting with rank-and-file lawmakers on Monday evening, her first since the election, May pledged to consult the party more over policy and said she will seek a national consensus on Brexit in a bid to heal the 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 with a 20-percentage-point lead over the opposition Labour Party in a search for an increased parliamentary majority and thus a freer hand in the Brexit talks due to start next week. After a campaign marked by policy and presentational blunders, she emerged from the vote having lost that majority and needing to do a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to get legislation through the House of Commons. Thirty-two Tories lost their seats.

With speculation swirling around Parliament in Westminster about how long she could cling on to her job, the prime minister forced a smile to reporters as she entered the meeting 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,

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 also promised to involve more lawmakers in drawing up policy, the person said.

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 was 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.

— With assistance by Thomas Penny

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