LONDON: A defiant Prime Minister Theresa May vowed Friday to form a new government to lead Britain out of the EU despite losing her majority in a snap general election and facing calls to resign.
“What the country needs more than ever is certainty,” May said after the shock outcome of Thursday’s vote.
The Conservative leader had called the election in a bid to extend her majority and strengthen her hand in the looming Brexit negotiations, but her gamble backfired spectacularly.
Although winning the most seats, her centre-right party lost its majority in parliament, meaning it will now rely on support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
German EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has turned the timetable screws even more on Britain, saying negotiations on its exit from the European Union must actually be finished by October next year, instead of March 2019, to allow the 27 remaining nations to approve the deal.
Oettinger said that “time for Brexit negotiations is getting tight” and added that “they must be closed in October 2018” to allow for the complicated approval process in the member states to run its course ahead of the official two-year deadline.
Sterling plunged against the dollar and the euro on Friday as the election result created even more uncertainty over the whole Brexit process.
But May vowed to “fulfil the promise of Brexit”, in a statement outside her Downing Street office after seeking permission from the head of state Queen Elizabeth II to form a new government.
“It is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that,” she said.
“This will allow us to come together as a country and channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal.”
May made no reference to her party’s damaging losses, leading the Evening Standard, edited by former Tory finance minister George Osborne, to splash the front-page headline “Queen of Denial”.
Avoid a no deal
The Conservatives and the pro-Brexit DUP are expected to team up on a vote-by-vote basis rather than enter a formal alliance after the result left Britain with a hung parliament.
EU President Donald Tusk urged Britain not to delay the talks, due to start on June 19, warning that time was running out to reach a divorce deal to end four decades of membership.
“We don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as result of ‘no negotiations’,” Tusk wrote on Twitter.
May faced pressure to quit from opposition parties after a troubled campaign overshadowed by two terror attacks, but said Britain “needs a period of stability”.
But Leftist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour party surged from 20 points behind in the opinion polls, told May to quit, saying she had “lost votes, lost support and lost confidence”.