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Tue, 24 November 2020

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ANALYSIS: The road ahead for Theresa May means she can't pretend 'nothing has changed' for long

ANALYSIS: The road ahead for Theresa May means she can't pretend 'nothing has changed' for long

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Theresa May gave no hint of having heard the general election result when she spoke on the steps of Downing Street today.


In what sounded like a continuation of her campaign, the Prime Minister said she would form a government to “provide certainty and lead Britain forward” as it heads into Brexit negotiations.

Was she trying to pretend she had not just lost 12 seats – and with them her Commons majority – and been forced to cobble a deal together with the DUP? If so, she surely can’t pretend for long. Trying to steer a minority government through the choppy waters of Brexit negotiations will be far from a walk in the park – and far from the only challenge ahead.

First, May will face the wrath of her MPs (the ones who managed to keep their jobs, at least), many of whom have been left furious at her stuttering and lifeless campaign, punctuated by a major policy blunder on social care and deeply negative attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

She has already faced open pressure from one colleague – who will undoubtedly be backed by others – to sack her two top aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. The pair have been criticised for shutting the PM away and making key decisions between just the three of them.

But how May would cope without her right hand man and woman, who are so integral to her operation they briefly re-joined the government to help her navigate the two terror attacks during the campaign, remains to be seen.

Then there is the challenge of dealing with the DUP. They may be the most natural bedfellows for the Tories in the Commons, but there are ideological chasms on social issues like same sex marriage and abortion, and they have made clear their opposition to the ‘hard Brexit’ Theresa May seems willing to pursue.

The day to day business of government won’t be easy either. With a narrow majority in the Commons, small bands of backbenchers will have the power to derail any plan she puts on the table. She warned against a “coalition of chaos” but now finds herself leading one.

And then there’s the voters. May called the election asking for a big mandate to strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks. The public refused her that mandate – and they will not appreciate being told they were wrong if she does not recognise that. Trying to ignore the result is also likely to strengthen Labour for when the next election eventually comes.

She may try to pretend today – as she did with her social care U-turn – that nothing has changed. But the challenges ahead for May after her big political gamble backfired mean the pretence cannot last for long. 

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