Britain's May brings back foe, aiming to
unite party before Brexit
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[June 12, 2017]
By Elizabeth Piper and Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa
May reappointed most of her ministers on Sunday but brought a Brexit
campaigner and party rival into government to try to unite her
Conservatives after a disastrous election sapped her authority, days
before Brexit talks begin.
The 60-year-old leader said she had tapped experience across the "whole
of the Conservative Party" when she appointed Michael Gove, a
long-serving cabinet minister who had clashed with May when she was home
secretary, as agriculture minister.
It was a surprise move - Gove was sacked as justice minister by May last
year after his bid to become party leader forced now-foreign minister
Boris Johnson from the race, amid accusations of treachery and political
But after gambling away a majority in parliament in an election she did
not need to call, May needs to unite a disillusioned party around her to
not only support her in the Brexit talks but also to strike a deal with
a small Northern Irish party that will enable her to stay in power.
"What I'm doing now is actually getting on with the immediate job. And I
think that's what's important, I think that's what the public would
expect. They want to see government providing that certainty and
stability," she said.
"What I've done today is see people from across the party accepting the
invitation to be in my cabinet, and crucially I've brought in talent
from across the whole of the Conservative Party. I believe that's
May formed her cabinet despite failing to win a majority in Thursday's
parliamentary election, when her Conservatives won 318 House of Commons
seats. Labour, the main opposition party, won 262.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he could still be prime minister,
although his party has no obvious way to build a majority coalition. He
said a new election might be necessary later this year or early in 2018.
Apart from Gove and her close ally Damian Green, promoted to Cabinet
Office minister to oversee the day-to-day running of the government, May
confirmed most of the ministers from her previous cabinet.
This marked an apparent reversal of plans to turf out those considered
less than loyal - a sign of her weakened stature in a party that
traditionally craves strong leaders.
In return, she won effusive pledges of loyalty, but she will have to
sell her premiership to Conservative lawmakers at a meeting on Monday.
"I am going to be backing her, and absolutely everybody I'm talking to
is going to be backing her too," said Johnson, who had been touted as a
possible successor to May. Liam Fox, trade minister, also said that May
was the only person to take Britain out of the European Union.
KEEPING ENEMIES CLOSE
The political turmoil comes a week before Britain is due to start
negotiating the terms of its exit from the European Union in talks of
unprecedented complexity that are supposed to wrap up by the end of
March 2019, when Britain actually leaves.
That timeline now looks even more ambitious than before, not least
because May's electoral debacle has emboldened those within her own
party who object to her "hard Brexit" approach of leaving the European
single market and customs union.
A Conservative source said the move to include Gove in her cabinet may
suggest she has learnt a lesson after firing George Osborne, the former
finance minister who as editor of London's Evening Standard newspaper,
has become a vocal critic.
"Theresa May is a dead woman walking. It's just how long she's going to
remain on death row," Osborne told the BBC.
The move might offer hope to Conservative lawmakers who have criticized
her style of government. Several have said that she seeks to concentrate
too much power in her immediate circle, leaving her cabinet and
[to top of second column]
Michael Gove, who has been appointed Secretary of State for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, leaves Downing Street in
London, Britain June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Two of her closest aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who had been
the focus of some criticism, resigned on Saturday.
"We are going to see, I hope, more collective decision-making in the
cabinet. I and other senior colleagues have made that clear to her,"
said defense minister Michael Fallon.
May's only hope of forming a government now is to win support from
Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which won 10 seats.
She is seeking a so-called confidence and supply deal, which would
involve the DUP supporting the Conservatives on key votes but not
joining a formal coalition.
The DUP does not work or negotiate on Sundays for religious reasons,
but officials from both sides are due to meet on Monday, and DUP
leader Arlene Foster told Sky News she would meet May on Tuesday.
Senior Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady said the prospect of being
propped up by the socially conservative DUP, which is strongly
focused on Northern Ireland's specific political complexities, was
causing concern in his party.
"I think there is concern about the policies of the DUP, the
domestic policies in Northern Ireland, but I think it's pretty clear
that any arrangement that is reached is not going to be a full
coalition," he told BBC Radio.
The DUP is strongly opposed to single-sex marriage and abortion, at
odds with Conservative policies.
There are also concerns about the potential impact of the proposed
arrangement on Northern Ireland's peace agreement, which relies in
part on London being an impartial arbiter between those, such as the
DUP, who want the province to remain in the United Kingdom and those
who want it to be part of Ireland.
Even if a deal is struck, May could struggle to get backing from
parliament for her Brexit stance.
Fallon told the BBC the government would be able to muster
parliamentary support for its Brexit plans, adding: "Our view of
Brexit I don't think has changed."
But Anna Soubry, a Conservative member of parliament who campaigned
ahead of last year's referendum for Britain to stay in the EU,
"I don't think she does have a majority in the House of Commons for
leaving the single market," she told Sky News.
(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Kylie MacLellan in
London, Conor Humphries in Dublin; Writing by Elizabeth Piper and
Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Keith Weir, Kevin Liffey and David
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