Brexit minister defends embattled PM as Theresa May faces party showdown | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.06.2017
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Brexit minister defends embattled PM as Theresa May faces party showdown

The UK's Brexit Minister David Davis has defended Prime Minister Theresa May after an electoral setback that cast doubt over prospects of a hard Brexit. May will Monday try and convice party MPs she should remain leader.

Davis, who was re-appointed as Brexit minister by Theresa May over the weekend, said any talk of her being removed from power was wrong.

"I find it incredibly self indulgent for the Tory party to be going for this sort of stuff," he said in a television interview with British broadcaster ITV, responding to a number of calls for may to consider her position. "She is fine, she is getting on the with the job."

May's leadership has come into question after a disastrous election that saw her party lose seats when it was expected to make gains. Former Finance Minister George Osborne - who was relieved of his duties by May following last year's Brexit vote - went as far as to refer to the prime minister as a "dead woman walking."

However, senior Tories have rallied around the prime minister, with both Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson denying that they plan to challenge her leadership.

Read: When European politicians bet big - and lost

"She deserves the support of her party. And she will certainly get it from me," Johnson wrote in a column for mass-circulation newspaper The Sun.

According to British media, despite the public support from her Conservative colleagues, May's new government is still struggling with its agenda. Downing Street has reportedly postponed the State Opening of Parliament, colloquially known as the Queen's Speech. The event is still officially scheduled for next Monday, though May's spokesman said she was expected to give a statement on the matter later today. The Queen's Speech is part of a pagentry-filled ceremony meant to usher in a new session of parliament, in which Elizabeth II reads out a list of policy proposals the government hopes to achieve. 

 

'No deal' option still on table

May was on Monday scheduled to meet with Conservative MPs over her handling of the election. Later, she is to hold her first cabinet meeting since the election, with Brexit talks due to begin next week.

Speaking to the BBC, Davis said he was still prepared to leave the Brexit talks without reaching an agreement on Britain's future relations with the bloc.

While Davis admitted that the UK government still wanted access to the single market, he dismissed the opposition Labour Party's contention that walking away from the negotiation table was an empty threat.

"They're objectively wrong for two reasons," Davis told BBC radio. "Number one, it's possible - we have worked up that alternative in some detail and we're still working on it, not because we want to but, in government you have to, if you're responsible, work up every contingency."

"The other side of the coin is that if you go into a negotiation without the ability to walk away, then you will have a poorer outcome from that negotiation, it doesn't matter if you're buying a house or doing an international trade deal."

Norway? No way

Davis ruled out the possibility of a Norway-style agreement with Britain as part of the free trade area and subject to freedom of movement for workers from across the EU. "We're not going down that route," said Davis.

After a poor showing at the election that saw the Conservatives fall eight seats short of a majority, the Tories have sought a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but have so far been unable to finalize an agreement.

Read: British election - Democratic Unionist Party play the kingmakers

The DUP holds 10 key seats in Britain's Westminster parliament, which - should an agreement be reached - would give Theresa May a theoretical majority. However, while the DUP campaigned in favor of Brexit during last year's referendum campaign, it has also indicated the preference for a "soft Brexit,” with no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

EU Parlament Straßburg Gespräch Brexit - Guy Verhofstadt & David Davis (Reuters/Alde Group 16)

Brexit Minister David Davis standing across from European Parliament negotiator Guy Verhofstadt

Irish Prime Minister-elect Leo Varadkar said that the election result raised the chance of a softer Brexit, as 

"I do have a sense that the landscape does change somewhat as a result of the British election," Varadkar told reporters. "I do think there is an opportunity to soften Brexit. But that all remains to be seen."

Meanwhile, Scotttish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson - who bucked the pro-Labour anti-Conservative trend by winning 12 seats north of the border - has also said she wants "consensus within the country about what it means and what we seek to achieve as we leave."

DUP talks raise hackles

The DUP was still withholding support on Sunday, prompting Theresa May's office to retract its previous claim that an "outline" coalition deal had already been agreed.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she will meet May on Tuesday while Downing Street said the incumbent premier would "finalize" a deal in the coming week.

The deal is not expected to amount to a formal coalition, with the DUP only supporting May on "big things."

The possibility of a deal with between the Conservatives and DUP - a socially conservative, hardline Protestant party which voted against the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for peace in Northern Ireland - as raised alarm bells in some quarters.

Major British parties have, until now, been able to avoid forging alliances on either side of Northern Ireland’s religious divide. The UK government is currently tasked with brokering an agreement

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