British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking a deal with a small Northern Irish party she needs to stay in power after a disastrous election that destroyed her authority days before Brexit talks start.
British media reported on Sunday moves were afoot within May’s Conservative Party to dislodge her, while opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who exceeded expectations in Thursday’s vote, insisted she could be ousted and he could replace her.
“Theresa May is a dead woman walking. It’s just how long she’s going to remain on death row,” former Conservative finance minister George Osborne, who was sacked by May when she became prime minister last year, told the BBC.
The Conservatives won 318 House of Commons seats in Thursday’s election, eight short of an outright majority. Labour, the main opposition party, won 262.
May’s only hope of forming a government is to win support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which won 10 seats.
She is seeking a so-called confidence and supply deal, which would involve the DUP supporting the Conservatives on key votes but not joining a formal coalition.
Her Downing Street office initially announced on Saturday that the “principles of an outline agreement” had been agreed with the DUP, only for the smaller party to contradict that account hours later.
Downing Street backtracked, saying she had “discussed finalising” a deal in the coming week. DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News she would meet May at Downing Street on Tuesday.
The political turmoil comes with Britain due to start negotiating on June 19 the terms of its exit from the European Union in talks of unprecedented complexity that are supposed to wrap up by the end of March 2019, when Britain actually leaves.
That timeline now looks even more ambitious than before, not least because May’s electoral debacle has emboldened those within her own party who object to her “hard Brexit” approach of leaving the European single market and customs union.
“The new cabinet obviously will meet early next week, our view of Brexit I don’t think has changed,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC, adding he believed the government would be able to muster parliamentary support for its Brexit plans.
But there were early signs that without a parliamentary majority, a weakened May could not count on all her party’s MPs to support her approach.
“I don’t think she does have a majority in the House of Commons for leaving the single market,” said Anna Soubry, a Conservative member of parliament who campaigned ahead of last year’s referendum for Britain to stay in the EU.
With media asking questions about whether May could remain at Downing Street after her electoral humiliation, ministers said now was not the time for the further uncertainty a party leadership contest would bring.
“This is not the time for sharks to be circling. This is the time for us to come together as a party,” culture minister Karen Bradley told Sky News.
But Soubry said May’s time in the top job would be limited.
Meanwhile, a buoyant Corbyn was insisting he saw a route for Labour to form a government, although it was not clear how he would command the support of a majority of parliament given the electoral arithmetic.
“I can still be prime minister. This is still on,” he told the Sunday Mirror.