British Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to wrest back control of her divided Conservative Party in a keynote speech at its annual conference on Wednesday.
“Let us shape up and give the country the government it needs,” May told delegates at the Conservative Party Conference, in a nod to the infighting that has beset her Conservatives—or “Tories”—since they lost their parliamentary majority in June’s general election.
May’s most senior ministers are split on the question of Brexit, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pushing for a more severe split from the European Union. Although much of the feuding has taken place behind the scenes and leaked to the news media, Johnson broke cover on the eve of the conference to outline his “red lines” on Brexit in an interview.
In her speech in the British city of Manchester, May conceded the party’s election campaign was “too scripted and too presidential,” but insisted her fractured cabinet was “a team that will tackle the challenges of the future together.”
At the core of the speech was May’s domestic agenda, and she dedicated little time to the matter of Brexit after her major speech on it last week. She proposed a cap on energy prices and promised new investment for social housing, as well as a review of how mental health is diagnosed and treated.
During the speech the Prime Minister was accosted by a heckler, who approached her lectern to hand her a P45 — the British equivalent of a pink slip. The man, a noted prankster named Simon Brodkin, gave the thumbs-up to Johnson and shouted “Boris made me do it” as he was escorted out.
Johnson, who was seated in the audience, is widely thought to have designs on the office of the Prime Minister and is the favored candidate of the party membership to replace May.
But he has been criticized widely for a string of gaffes while acting as Foreign Minister — most recently his comment, revealed Tuesday evening, that the war-torn Libyan city of Sirte could become a north African version of Dubai once they had “cleared the dead bodies away.”
May’s speech was also disrupted by her own persistent cough, which led some online to wonder if she was going to be able to finish. Questions, too, remain on whether she will be able to see through her party’s current 5-year term in office.
The Conservatives are able to govern only in a coalition agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, and she remains vulnerable to leadership challenges from within her party. But the consensus view holds that she will stay on as Prime Minister at least until Britain formally leaves the EU in 2019, as few wish to take ownership of the process.
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