LONDON: Bloodied by an election gamble that backfired and triggered calls for her resignation, Prime Minister Theresa May stood by her vow to form Britain’s next government and lead the country out of the European Union.
“What the country needs more than ever is certainty,” the Conservative leader said on Friday, as a political crisis brewed around her.
Sterling plunged against the dollar and the euro as even more uncertainty fed into the complex Brexit process, and European leaders bluntly reminded May that the clock was ticking.
May, who became prime minister after the June 2016 referendum on leaving the EU, had called the election three years early in a bid to strengthen her hand in the looming Brexit negotiations.
But in a catastrophic setback, the bet failed and she lost her overall majority.
The center-right Conservatives found themselves eight short of the coveted 326-seat mark after the Labor Party, led by socialist stalwart Jeremy Corbyn, scored hefty gains.
May reached out to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won 10 seats, to forge a working majority.
The Conservatives and the DUP, which is socially conservative and backs Brexit, are expected to work together on a vote-by-vote basis rather than enter a formal alliance.
May’s top ministers, including finance minister Philip Hammond, foreign minister Boris Johnson and Brexit minister David Davis, will remain in their jobs.
In a statement outside Downing Street, the 60-year-old premier promised to “fulfill the promise of Brexit.”
“It is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that,” she claimed. “This will allow us to come together as a country and channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal.”
But European Council President Donald Tusk warned there was “no time to lose” in starting the negotiations.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker added he hoped there would not be “further delay” in the talks that “we are desperately waiting for.”
May confirmed she intended to start the Brexit talks on June 19 as planned, promising to “get to work.”
She launched the two-year countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU on March 29 before announcing snap elections less than three weeks later, causing precious haggling time to be lost.
Diplomatic veterans say the Brexit process is as titanic in scale as it is historically unprecedented.
It requires the unwinding of a four-decade relationship with Europe – with the risk that Britain, without a deal, could find itself locked out of the lucrative single EU market.
Tusk spelt out the problem on Twitter: “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.’”