Theresa May tells MPs she will serve ‘as long as you want me’

PM tells 1922 backbench committee ‘I got us into this mess and I’m going to get us out of it’

Theresa May has put her future as prime minister in the hands of Conservative MPs, apologising for last week's election result and telling them she would serve "as long as you want me".

Ms May was addressing the 1922 committee of backbench MPs as talks continue with the Democratic Unionist Party about supporting a minority Conservative government.

The prime minister took full responsibility for the failure of her gamble on an early election and promised to make amends.

“I got us into this mess and I’m going to get us out of it,” she told the MPs.


Ms May has seen her authority drain away since the election and was forced to dispense with her two closest advisers and keep in place senior ministers she had planned to sack. She made clear to her MPs on Monday evening that she understood that they will determine how long her premiership lasts.

“I’ve served the party since I was 12. I will serve you for as long as you want me,” she said.

Tories alarmed

The prime minister reassured the MPs that the DUP, whose views on lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT) and women's rights have alarmed some Conservatives, will not have any influence on government policy on such issues. Scottish secretary David Mundell, who is gay, told BBC Scotland earlier that he hoped the DUP would change its position on LGBT rights.

"I don't subscribe to the DUP's position on these issues but the DUP will not be influencing these decisions within the rest of the United Kingdom. We're not in any way signing up to the DUP manifesto. Most of these issues are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, " he said.

“I would like to see the DUP change its position, and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole change its position, on LGBTI [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender intersex] issues.”

The negotiations with the DUP over a confidence and supply agreement could delay the Queen’s Speech to Parliament, which is due to take place next Monday. The speech, which sets out the government’s legislative agenda, cannot be finalised until the two parties agree on which elements of the Conservative manifesto should be included.

The DUP is understood to be pressing for the government to abandon plans to means test a winter fuel allowance for pensioners and a proposal for old people to bear much of the cost of their home care.

Soft Brexit

Damian Green, the prime minister's newly appointed second in command, said the timing of the queen's speech would depend on the speed of progress in talks with the DUP.

“We are determined to produce a Queen’s Speech which fulfils the PM’s ambition that we have a country which works for everyone,” he said.

Earlier, Brexit secretary David Davis suggested that the start of Britain's negotiations with the EU, planned for next Monday, could also be delayed

“It’s in the week of next week, basically, the first discussions. My permanent secretary is actually in Brussels today talking to them about the details,” he said.

Some Conservatives are pressing for a softer approach to Brexit, arguing that there is no longer a parliamentary majority for the hard Brexit favoured by Ms May. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, discussed the government's approach to Brexit with the prime minister on Monday.

“The key issue is to put our country’s economic future first and foremost in our minds as we go ahead with Brexit. It is clear to me that this Conservative government and Westminster is determined to deliver that,” said Ms Davidson.

‘Utter humiliation’

A Labour spokesman said that uncertainty over the date of the State Opening showed the government “in chaos”, while Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it was “an utter humiliation” for the PM.

“It is time to stop trying to cling to power and time to admit enough is enough,” said Mr Farron, who branded the possible Tory-DUP deal as a “MayDUP government”.

“Theresa May can squat in Number 10 as long as she wants but the message is stark – she has no power, no influence and her game is up,” said Mr Farron. DUP leader Arlene Foster rejected suggestions that the mooted deal could undermine a return to powersharing arrangements at Stormont, amid claims from political rivals that the government’s stated impartiality would be fatally undermined.

Mrs Foster declined to give details of what she termed a “positive engagement with the Conservative party”, but said she would be travelling to London late on Monday for discussions with her team of 10 DUP MPs ahead of a meeting with Ms May on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams turned Ms May’s own slogan against her to brand it “a coalition of chaos”, adding: “Any deal which undercuts in any way the process here or the Good Friday Agreement is one which has to be opposed.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times