In the aftermath of the stunning loss by Theresa May’s Conservative party in the UK General Elections, bookmakers quickly made Labour’s Jeremy Corbin the odds-on favorite to become the UK’s next Prime Minister, implying May would resign shortly. That contingency, however, got a last minute reprieve when May announced on Friday she would seek to form a minority government with the help of a small Northern Irish party, the far-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), extending her political career if only for the immediate future. However, the turmoil within the Conservative Party re-emerged on Saturday when Theresa May was forced to part ways with her two closest advisors, after the PM was warned she faced a leadership challenge unless she sacked Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.
While senior Tory party figures cautioned earlier against any immediate leadership challenge, saying it would only cause further disruption as Britain prepares to start Brexit negotiations as early as June 19, someone had to take the blame for the crushing electoral setback and according to both AFP and BBC they demanded the heads of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, as the price for allowing the 60-year-old to stay in office.
May had relied on Timothy and Hill for advice and support since her previous job at the interior ministry, and their resignations will be a “personal blow.”
Announcing his resignation on the Conservative Home website, Timothy urged Tory MPs to “get behind” Mrs May but said nothing should be allowed to get in the way of the process of forming a government and beginning Brexit talks. He said the Conservatives’ failure to win was not due to a lack of support for Theresa May and the Conservatives but due to an “unexpected surge” of support for Labour.
He conceded his party had failed to communicate a sufficiently “positive” message to voters and address their concerns over years of austerity and inter-generational divisions, including over Brexit.
“We were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hill said it had been a pleasure to serve in government and she believed Mrs May would continue as prime minister.
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The resignation of Hill – a combative character who one ex-colleague said had helped create a “toxic” atmosphere at the heart of government. – was confirmed on Saturday by a party spokesman. The news came as May prepared to name the rest of her cabinet, after revealing Friday that her five most senior ministers would remain in their posts.
Timothy said he took responsibility for the Conservative manifesto, including a plan for elderly social care that caused a backlash among many core voters. As AFP adds, prior to the election, she had been widely expected to sack finance minister Philip Hammond following a reported clash over her Brexit strategy.
The Labour party quickly responded with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson saying that the PM’s advisers had “taken the fall” for her but tweeted the PM was “responsible for her own defeat”.
According to the BBC the pair’s departure bought the PM some “breathing space” following 24 hours of recriminations after the Conservatives lost their overall majority. It noted that the two were so close to the PM that critical MPs believed that, unless they made way, she would not be able to change her leadership style to adopt a more “outgoing, inclusive, responsive, empathetic approach”. BBC adds that senior Conservatives had warned the PM they would instigate a leadership contest at a meeting of backbenchers early next week if the pair did not leave, and were confident they could get the required 48 signatures to trigger a contest.
One former minister, Anna Soubry, welcomed the clearout, saying it was the “right thing to do” and saying the PM must “build a consensus” on Brexit and other issues. But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said the PM’s advisers had “taken the fall” for her but tweeted the PM was “responsible for her own defeat”.
Who were the PM’s special advisers?
Fiona Hill: Fiercely loyal and seen as a formidable operator, Fiona Hill was at Mrs May’s side for four years at the Home Office, becoming a close confidante of the then home secretary. A former Sky News and Scotsman journalist in her 40s, she led work on the Modern Slavery Act and published her own report on the subject.
She was forced to resign as Mrs May’s special adviser in a 2014 dispute with Michael Gove over who was to blame for briefing newspapers about an increase in extremism in schools. But she was brought back into the fold when Mrs May became PM.
Nick Timothy: The bearded Brummie is the son of a steelworker, who went to grammar school and joined the Conservative Party at the age of 17. He is credited with influencing the PM’s views on social mobility and the need to put the Conservatives “at the service of working people”.
His ambition to be a Conservative MP was reportedly thwarted by David Cameron, following a row over special advisers being asked to canvass in a by-election.