Theresa May told her party on Monday she would serve as prime minister as long as they wanted after a botched election gamble cost the party its majority in parliament and weakened London’s hand days before formal Brexit negotiations.
With British politics thrust into the deepest turmoil since last June’s shock Brexit vote, EU leaders were left wondering how the divorce talks would open next week.
Despite her party’s expectations of a landslide victory, May lost her majority in parliament, pushing her into rushed talks on a support agreement with a small eurosceptic Northern Irish Protestant party with 10 parliamentary seats.
May faced Conservative party lawmakers at a meeting of its 1922 Committee. Despite anger at the election, she was cheered briefly at the start of the meeting.
“She said ‘I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it,'” said one Conservative lawmaker who attended. “She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”
Lawmakers, who are by tradition not named at such meetings, told Reuters that there were no dissenting voices and that the party had no appetite for a leadership election.
May appeared contrite, sought to apologise for her failed election gamble and gave an explanation of what went wrong.
While some members of her party have said she will have to go eventually, May is expected to stay on as prime minister at least for now.
May has promised to start the formal Brexit talks next week but her authority has collapsed since the election result and opponents took her woes as a chance to push back against her Brexit strategy.
During the campaign, May cast herself as the only leader competent enough to navigate the tortuous Brexit negotiations that will shape the future of the United Kingdom and its $2.5 trillion economy.
At the meeting with lawmakers in Parliament, May recognised that a broader consensus needed to be built for Brexit and made clear that she would listen to all wings of the party on the issue.
She mocked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist, as incompetent and unrealistic, but his electoral campaign energised the youth vote and wiped out the Conservatives’ majority in parliament.
May plans a clean break from the EU, involving withdrawal from Europe’s single market and customs union and limits on immigration from the EU.