Brexit, harassment scandal: Crises are piling up for May
Political horizons vary. There’s the next election, the next budget cycle, the next big speech. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May can see only as far as the next crisis, Bloomberg Politics reports.
A fresh round of Brexit talks kick off next week, which should be the focus of government attention. But May’s big announcement Friday was a new code of conduct for Conservative politicians in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal that’s forced the resignation of her defence secretary, Michael Fallon. One of her own lawmakers remarked privately that far from focusing on the long term, she is now just trying to get through the next 15 minutes.
More allegations over the weekend could raise the stakes for the embattled premier, whose situation has been precarious since June, when the Tories lost their parliamentary majority. Yet Fallon’s departure underscored the dangers of choosing a new leader. Until he quit, he was seen by many as an ideal caretaker prime minister.
The problem for May is that taking any radical action -- say in the form of a major reshuffle or expelling lawmakers found to have behaved improperly from her party -- might jeopardize her government. She is nine seats short of a Parliamentary majority, kept in place by a deal with 10 Northern Irish lawmakers.
Punishing members of her party means she’ll be unable to rely on them voting with her. And if she provokes enough lawmakers to quit Parliament and force by-elections, it could start a chain of events that leads to another election.
On Friday, Tory lawmaker Charles Elphicke was suspended from the party, and from his post as a whip in the House of Commons “following serious allegations that have been referred to the police,” Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith said in a statement issued by May’s office. Elphicke said in a tweet, “I am not aware of what the alleged claims are and deny any wrongdoing."
In the mean time, May remains in place. Having had her fingers burned being bold, with the surprise snap election in June, her style since has reverted to caution. The tricky part is maintaining her focus when her own party is riven by domestic divisions on Europe.