Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May looked increasingly vulnerable Sunday after a humiliating election left many members of her own Conservative Party reportedly plotting to force her out.
The U.K.’s influential Sunday newspapers led with turmoil at the top of the party just days ahead of high-stakes and vitally important Brexit talks with the European Union.
“In office, but not in power,” read The Telegraph. “May’s premiership in peril,” wrote The Observer. “Down and Out?” asked The Sunday Times.
The Conservatives won 318 seats in the election, eight short of an outright majority. When Theresa May announced the so-called snap election in April in order to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks, the Conservatives held 331 seats and led the Labour Party by some 20 points in the polls.
May has spoken to Northern Ireland’s tiny Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) with whom the prime minister is trying to craft an agreement, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.
Prime ministers are not voted on directly and instead the leader of the party that wins the most seats in Parliament gets the first chance to form a new government.
Nicky Morgan, a senior Conservative legislator, said she would oppose a formal coalition pact with the ultra-conservative DUP for fear it would force the party to water down the Conservatives’ “equalities policies.” The DUP is anti-gay marriage, opposes abortion and has a track record of denying man-made climate change.
In an interview with NBC News’ British partner ITV News, Morgan refused to say if the prime minister would have to go but said May could not lead the Conservatives into another general election.
“If we’re going to have a leadership contest in the Conservative Party what we cannot do is have another coronation,” she said, referring to May’s leadership, which was not put to the members of the Conservative Party and instead was only voted on by the party’s lawmakers.
Anna Soubry, another senior Conservative politician, told the BBC Friday that May should “consider her position.”
Inside May’s official residence the turmoil was thinly veiled.
Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, the prime minister’s divisive chiefs of staff, resigned Saturday after what one commentator described as the worst Conservative campaign since the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.
Former Conservative Treasury minister George Osborne told the BBC that May was a “dead woman walking.”
Stepping in to defend the prime minister, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Osborne — who was fired by May and has since resigned as a lawmaker to edit The London Evening Standard — was “enjoying his job as commentator rather than a player on the pitch.”
Meanwhile rumors swirled that the maverick Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was being lined up to mount a leadership bid as The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph reported that a Conservative rebellion was afoot.
Johnson denied he is considering a leadership challenge, tweeting Saturday that the rumors were “tripe.”
The Conservatives are known for their ruthless leadership campaigns and it was only last year that Johnson and former Justice Secretary Michael Gove vied for power in a bitter battle.
As usual in British politics, legendary wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was evoked: “The loyalties which center upon [the leader] are enormous…” he wrote, but “if he is no good, he must be poleaxed.”
On Sunday, May was seen arriving at church with her husband Philip May in her home village some 40 miles west of London.
Back in the capital, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the BBC’s flagship Sunday politics show where he described the election as “an incredibly good result.”
Labour won 262 seats — many more than many expected.
Corbyn added that he thought there would be another election this year.
Labour’s tally, even when added to those of potential allies such as the Scottish National Party and other smaller parties, was still short of a majority.
Shadow Treasury Secretary John McDonnell — in essence Corbyn’s second-in-command — told ITV News the Conservative party ruling with the DUP would be a “coalition of chaos” adding that he thought another election was “inevitable.”