UK's Theresa May struggles with post-election political headache

Here are some of the problems facing the British prime minister as she attempts to come to grips with a disappointing election result.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has permission from the queen to form a government, but she is still facing difficulties in doing so.

Robin Amos Robin Amos is a staff writer at TRT World. @RobinGPAmos

Pulling together a government is proving to be quite the headache for Theresa May.

On paper, it looks simple enough. After all, Britain’s queen gave her country’s prime minister permission to form a government on Friday day last week. Yet three days on the prime minister is still struggling to scramble a coalition deal together.

On Saturday, hours after a press release from Theresa May’s office at 10 Downing Street claimed a deal had been reached with the hard right Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP — which has ten seats in parliament — embarrassingly responded with a statement saying they were still biding their time.

Now it looks like a deal between the parties is closer to coming together, but that is bringing difficulties of its own. And as May contends with the disappointing result of Thursday’s election, there are murmurs of mutiny within her own Conservative Party...

 Here are some of the hurdles getting in Theresa May’s way:


Since the Conservatives with 318 seats in the house of commons are eight short of an overall majority, they need the support of a party to rule either within or outside a coalition. The most likely candidate so far looks to be the Northern Irish DUP, due to its staunch pro-British unionism and shared right-wing ideology.

However, on top of being unpopular with large swathes of the UK electorate — with a petition against such a deal on receiving over 700,000 signatures as of June 12 — the DUP’s historically anti-gay, anti-Catholic and anti-abortion agenda has spooked even Conservative Members of Parliament. They fear a return to the sectarian violence and instability in Northern Ireland which largely ended with the Good Friday agreement of 1998.

Adding to these concerns is a statement from the Portadown branch of the anti-Catholic Orange Order asking the DUP to use its new influence to get permission to conduct a banned march through a predominantly pro-Catholic neighbourhood, and comments from Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny stating that a deal with the party may undermine the Northern Irish peace process.

With all the controversy surrounding the possible deal, after May herself once advocated working to drop the “nasty party” image she said the Conservatives had long attracted, the question remains of whether it will actually come to fruition and, if it does, whether it will last.


Through all this, close on May’s heels are a reinvigorated Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. According to one poll taken after the election by Survation, a market research agency, for the Mail on Sunday newspaper, the party now has 45 percent support to 39 percent for the Conservatives.

Even though Labour didn't actually come top in Thursday's election, party leader Jeremy Corbyn has looked pretty pleased with himself in recent days. (Reuters)

While prior to the election Corbyn was locked in long-term infighting with many of his own MPs, Labour’s gains in Thursday’s election on the back of the youth vote, despite the party coming second, will probably encourage dissenters to get behind him — for the time being at least.

A cheerful-looking Corbyn has already said that he is ready for a new election, and has suggested getting the support of other MPs in other parties to pass Labour policies, if the party isn’t able to form a government itself.


Another area where Thursday’s result is likely to make itself felt is in how Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union will be conducted. May called the election in the first place to win a mandate to pursue a “hard Brexit” — Britain leaving the EU and severing most current agreements with the bloc, including the customs tax-free single market.

The prime minister’s spokesperson on Monday said, "Our position is clearly set out, it is clearly set out in a number of places and there has been no change to that." Despite such assurances, with several supporters of hard Brexit in parliament unseated in favour of those with a softer stance, it now looks like the next government may be forced to pursue a deal which retains more of Britain’s ties with the EU.

If a soft Brexit is on the cards, it would give hope to those who saw these ties as important or wanted to remain in the bloc. But depending on what kind of deal takes shape, the vocal opponents of the EU among the Conservative Party and general public who had hoped to end policies such as freedom of movement may end up severely disappointed.


Despite her party losing its majority in the election, the prime minister has managed to hold onto the reigns of power for the moment. However, the vultures have begun to circle overhead, with George Osborne, the former Conservative lord chancellor, telling the BBC on Sunday May is a “dead woman walking and the only question is how long she remains on death row.”

Osborne’s comments came before May met with the 1922 committee on Monday — an influential group of Conservative MPs outside of government which played a major role in ousting previous prime minister and party leader Margaret Thatcher. The committee appears to have given her a pass, for now, but there are still plenty of discontented figures within the party and, as the late British PM Harold Wilson once quipped, “a week is a long time in politics.”

Amid rumours that he is plotting a leadership challenge against May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has stressed his support for the prime minister. (Reuters)

David Davis, the chief minister for Brexit, and Boris Johnson, the foreign minister, have done their best to dampen rumours of an uprising, with Davis calling them “the height of self-indulgence” and Johnson telling a whatsapp group of MPs to get behind the prime minister. But it bears remembering that the same Johnson wrote in a controversial article in 2006 that the party had become accustomed to “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”