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Results From Snap Election Create Chaos In British Politics


Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, woke up this morning and had a duty to perform. Though her party suffered disaster in yesterday's elections and lost its majority in Parliament, the Conservatives still have the most seats.

So Theresa May went across London to Buckingham Palace and asked Queen Elizabeth for permission to form a government. Then she got in the car, returned to her residence, 10 Downing St., and spoke briefly to the press on the way in.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: What the country needs more than ever is certainty. And having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons.

INSKEEP: Then she walked inside number 10, door closed. NPR's Frank Langfitt is somewhere outside and trying to make sense of all this. Hi, Frank.


INSKEEP: So a very calm statement there, nothing to see here, we win.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's sort of - I don't want to be disrespectful to the prime minister of the United Kingdom, but it seemed like nothing happened yesterday. It would be like the equivalent of coming home and finding that your house had burned down or something and your spouse saying no, everything's fine.

It's sort of an extraordinary event yesterday, and yet, she comes out today as though nothing has happened. And this comes when there's just tremendous turmoil politically on the U.K. landscape.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I'm just thinking - there was a time when President Bush's party in the United States lost its majority in Congress. He said, we took a thumping. President Obama's party lost the Senate, we took a shellacking he said - or maybe it was the House. In any case, you have to acknowledge that you got defeated, even if you're still in office. Nothing there from May.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's a - it is a very - it was a very strange thing to watch as though nothing had happened. And I think what she's trying to do is obviously hold on to control of power here. Obviously she wants to have a government going forward, but there's no acknowledgment of what - yesterday was just a colossal disaster and a surprise when you consider that she - when she called for snap elections back in April, she looked like she was headed towards a landslide.

She actually lost seats yesterday. So it's one of the biggest miscalculations in a long time by a prime minister, the last being the Brexit vote decision by David Cameron.

INSKEEP: And now she's in the middle of trying to negotiate Brexit, will have to do it with a far-weakened Conservative Party. A few quick questions here. She doesn't have a majority. She has to have a majority. It's majority rule. How does she get one?

LANGFITT: She's reached out to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. And they're a very small party, but they seem to be willing to work with her. They are pro-Brexit. They are skeptical of the European Union, so perhaps this is a good match. But, of course, she's going to have negotiations - Brexit negotiations - beginning later this month.

And, you know, she's not going to be seen as strong at all in Europe. She had been talking really tough with them. She just got clobbered to a great extent by Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party, so she comes into this in a much more weakened state.

INSKEEP: Well, you said she wants to hold on to power - will she? Does she keep her job?

LANGFITT: I think for the time being. And I think we sort of need to watch this day by day. For the time being, it looks like she will. But people that I've been talking to both in the streets and also people who are political analysts thinks - think that this is a very bad wound.

And trying to hold onto a coalition like this may be very difficult, so she may not be able to. The question is, how long can she make it? Some people think maybe by sometime in the fall, she will no longer be prime minister.

INSKEEP: Brexit negotiations will go ahead?

LANGFITT: They will go ahead, and I think the U.K. is going to leave the European Union, but exactly what the terms of that are unclear because the vote that the Labour Party got here suggested that people may not want the kind of sharp Brexit that she wants to really sever relations with the European Union, a lot of uneasiness.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. 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.