Brexit thrown into doubt as Theresa May's election gamble backfires

The Prime Minister's own position is also in question as Tories begin distancing themselves

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Friday 09 June 2017 06:39
Sky News presenter shouts 'are you going to resign, Prime Minister?' at Theresa May

British politics and Brexit are in disarray as it became clear on Friday that Theresa May’s election gamble has gone catastrophically wrong.

At the final count the country was bogged down in a hung parliament, with Tories admitting the result blows the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy to pieces.

Ms May’s position was also in doubt with Labour calling for her to quit and senior Conservatives questioning her position and distancing themselves from the leader, amid reports of potential successors jockeying for position.

Perhaps the only lifeline available to Ms May was a potential coalition with Northern Ireland's DUP, which would provide a miniscule majority, substantially smaller than the one she claimed was not stable enough to carry off Brexit when she called the election.

Results showed the Conservatives failing to gain key target seats, while five Tory ministers were among those who lost their seats. Home Secretary Amber Rudd held on to her seat by the skin of her teeth.

With 14 constituencies left to declare, the Tories were on 310 seats, making it mathematically impossible for them to reach the magic 326 number of seats needed to govern with a majority.

Labour was set to increase its count by at least 28 seats, to 258 or more, the Liber Democrats gained four to win 12, and the SNP won 34, a major drop from the 56 they won in 2015.

In an early sign of repercussions the result would have, sterling fell more than 1.5 per cent to £1.27 and plummeted more than 1 per cent to €1.13.

Shocked sources in Brussels told The Independent the result would mean Brexit negotiations are now in “uncharted territory”, with it unclear how a strong coalition could be formed between parties bitterly opposed over their approach to EU withdrawal.

One former Tory minister said: “There is still a majority for Brexit, but how on earth does it work.

“I think the kind of Brexit she was talking about may have to change, some of the questions that Theresa answered before her Lancaster House speech may have to be revisited.”

Brexit Secretary David Davis indicated the Tories would lose their mandate to take the UK out of the single market without a majority, saying of British voters, “that will be their decision”.

Another senior Tory figure told The Independent: “If these results play out, then the most obvious answer is that we would need another election, probably within six months.

“I find it difficult to see how Brexit negotiations could continue, how anyone could form a coalition to do it.”

General Election 2017: Nick Clegg loses seat in Sheffield

Ms May would have the right to try to form a coalition first if the Tories are the biggest party. But with many rivals ruling out a deal, a politically strong union of parties looks unlikely. Northern Ireland’s DUP could give Ms May power, but only with a majority of around two, making it incredibly hard to pass the complex legislation needed for Brexit.

Any attempt to rule with a minority would leave her in an impossibly difficult position – needing the votes of parties who have roundly rejected her approach to Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry openly demanded Ms May resign, while Conservative sources reported she could if she fails to win the majority she wanted to effectively negotiate with Brussels.

Ex-Tory business minister Anna Soubry said Ms May's campaign had been "dreadful", adding: "She is in a very difficult place. She is a remarkable and very talented woman and she doesn't shy from difficult decisions, but she now has to, obviously, consider her position."

As the pressure mounted, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox sidestepped questions about whether Ms May would be forced to resign.

Pressed on whether Ms May is irrevocably damaged soon after the damning exit poll predicted the result, he told BBC News: “Well it’s very early in the evening and I think we have to wait and see.”

Another Tory MP told The Independent: “It’s down to her. She has the right to form a coalition if she can. After that the questions about what happens next to the party, to her, are out there and they are being asked by people.”

Ex-Chancellor George Osborne, fired by Ms May after she took office, was scathing about the Prime Minister and her campaign.

John McDonnell: Theresa May's position as PM untenable

He said: “Is the Conservative Party likely to want her fighting the next general election, there’s a very large question mark over that at the moment if these are what the results are.

“She called this election. She didn’t really frame the question. The manifesto which was drafted by her and about two other people, was a total disaster and must go down now as one of the worst manifestos in history by a governing party.

“I say one of the worst, I can’t really think of a worse one.”

Ex-Tory MP and former minister Gerald Howarth said: “I think the campaign did not concentrate on why the general election was being held.”

Prime Minister Theresa May casts her vote

Other Tories suggested potential leadership candidates including Boris Johnson are already making manoeuvres, sounding out potential support.

At his own count, preempting questions over what must happen next, he said: “It is early to comment on events unfolding tonight.

“But one thing is clear to all of us. We’ve got to listen to our constituents and listen to their concerns.”

Early results appeared to play to the exit poll, with Conservatives failing to take key target seats like Darlington and Wrexham.

Mr Johnson’s own majority was slashed in half in Uxbridge, while Treasury minister Jane Ellison lost her Battersea seat to Labour’s Marsha De Cordova, on a 10 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour.

Former Lib Dem Leader and former deputy PM Nick Clegg lost his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour’s Jared O’Mara. Vince Cable and Jo Swinson won their seats back for the Lib Dems.

The SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat to the Conservative Douglas Ross, who won 48 per cent of the vote. Nicola Sturgeon said she had things to “think about”.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in