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British Election Fallout Continues


To London now - Thursday's election was disastrous for Britain's ruling Conservative Party. Theresa May has now accepted the resignation of her two chiefs of staff in an attempt to cling to power. And she is trying to strike a deal with a small party in Northern Ireland to build up enough votes in Parliament to rule. And there's the small matter of Brexit negotiations, which begin later this month. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London. Hey-a (ph), Frank.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're in the capital. What is the political landscape in the U.K. looking like right now?

LANGFITT: Three words, Lulu - wreckage, chaos and uncertainty.


LANGFITT: The wreckage is basically May, as you remember, she called the snap election back in April. She ends up instead of building up a big majority, she actually loses her majority in Parliament. It's clearly threatened her own rule. And it's basically seen as a staggering self-inflicted wound.

The chaos is you can almost feel the political plates shifting day by day here. You've got a number of politicians who are jockeying for position, trying to influence what kind of Brexit the U.K. actually pushes for. And then obviously, people are already eyeing a run to take over the party and the prime minister's job. The uncertainty is, when does May go?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, Frank, this has been a dramatic fall for a prime minister whom not long ago observers were compared to Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher and thought would be in office for years. Are we really looking at the end?

LANGFITT: Yeah, we are and the question is when. I mean, nobody ultimately knows. You know, after the Brexit vote and last week's general election, there's certainly no such thing as certainty in British politics anymore. Today, George Osborne - he's the former treasury secretary - he called May a dead woman walking. A Conservative MP said perhaps the Conservative Party conference could have a meeting this summer to replace her but she could hang on longer. And one of the reasons is what you just mentioned.

The Brexit negotiations are starting Monday, a week from now. Who wants to switch horses going into such an incredibly difficult and such an incredibly important negotiation? The other thing is, does anybody want her job right now? Maybe, you know, the political calculation is to let her frankly muck around her administration, muck around in the Brexit negotiations, wait till - candidly, she probably has a lot of problems - and then challenge her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So Brexit, this is a huge deal. Where does this leave the U.K. as it starts negotiations for leaving the European Union?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, all along, Lulu, May was pushing for what she called basically a very clean break with the EU, what some people call a hard Brexit. It would mean leaving the gigantic single market - which is very beneficial to the United Kingdom - of these 27 other states in the European Union. And this weekend, some Conservative Parliament members are saying we want a softer Brexit. We want to put U.K. jobs first, focus on the economy more than limiting immigration.

And so it looks like it could be considerably harder for May to push through this hard-line deal. And the terms of Brexit are just really unclear right now. The Brits, of course, it's very important to remember that she's also going into these negotiations in a far weaker position than she was back in Wednesday when she had a larger majority in Parliament.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where do things stand on May's government?

LANGFITT: Well, she's trying - she's reached out to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. She's trying to strike a deal where they would support the Tories, the Conservative Party, on big issues like defense and Brexit. But it's a very small party, and now they have a ton of leverage over her because they're the only party in Parliament that they'll - that is willing to work with her. So going ahead, it looks also - potentially very unstable government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "IMAGES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.