After the most challenging night of her political career to date, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to form a weakened majority government on Friday, in a move likely to reverberate across the Atlantic.
With almost every seat accounted for from Thursday’s U.K. general election, no major political parties were able to form an overall majority. Despite the bruising result for her right-wing Conservative Party, which previously had a 17-seat majority, May sought permission from the queen to enter parliament together with the Democratic Unionist Party.
May is ‘either out or seriously weakened’
While the Conservatives remain as Britain’s largest party, May’s failure to secure an overall majority could put her alliance with Trump to the test.
“May is either out (most likely) or seriously weakened. … The result is a major embarrassment for May who called the election just a few weeks ago on the back of a commanding 20-plus poll lead,” Kallum Pickering, senior U.K. economist at Berenberg, said in an email to CNBC.
Despite May voicing concerns over some of Trump’s hard-line views, the Conservative leader recently reaffirmed her commitment to maintaining the U.K.’s “special relationship” with the U.S.
May’s willingness to set aside political differences with Trump was perhaps most fittingly captured when she was photographed holding hands with the president in her first state visit to Washington.
Davis, Johnson and Rudd are ‘front-runners to succeed May’
While May pledged to continue in her role as prime minister, speculation has intensified as to who could potentially replace the Tory leader.
“It is impossible to imagine May’s MPs allowing her to lead the party into another election. Her hopes of implementing her domestic reform agenda have turned to dust,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe director of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.
“The front-runners to succeed her, possibly by acclamation, would be (Brexit minister) David Davis, (U.K. Foreign Secretary) Boris Johnson and (Home Secretary) Amber Rudd,” Rahman said.
U.K. bookmakers slashed the betting odds for Johnson to replace May as prime minister from 66/1 to 5/1 on Friday morning as the election results filtered in. Johnson also appeared to fuel the rumors when reporters asked whether he was supportive of the prime minister on Friday; he said it was still “early days.”
Should Johnson become prime minister, it would appear Trump could expect an amiable relationship similar to the one he has enjoyed with May to date.
The Foreign secretary recently argued he could not see any reason for Trump’s upcoming visit to the U.K. to be canceled, despite the furor concerning the president’s tweets challenging Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, after Saturday’s terror attack.
Trump ‘determined to add to world’s dangers’
At one stage in the overnight proceedings, there was even a remote possibility that left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be able to lead Britain. Trump may have been faced with a premier who is ideologically opposed on almost all major political issues.
Corbyn recently said the president’s behavior risked making the world a more dangerous place.
“The new U.S. president seems determined to add to the dangers by recklessly escalating the confrontation with North Korea, unilaterally launching missile strikes on Syria, opposing President Obama’s nuclear arms deal with Iran, and backing a new nuclear arms race,” Corbyn said during a speech on foreign policy in May.
He added that under his governance the U.K. would no longer engage in “hand-holding with Donald Trump” and would distance Britain’s foreign policy away from the U.S. and back to Britain.
“We will not be afraid to speak our mind,” he said.
In contrast to Johnson, Corbyn leaped to the defense of Khan last week and described Trump’s attack on the London Labour mayor as “graceless.”
The president said Khan was “pathetic” after the mayor had said London’s citizens had “no reason to be alarmed.” The mayor had said Trump took his comments out of context. The mayor had said: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.”