LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, trying to pacify her Conservative Party after a major setback in the country’s election Thursday, on Saturday let go her top two aides, who had earned reputations for secrecy and arrogance.
The aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, May’s co-chiefs of staff, resigned after reports that senior Conservative ministers in the prime minister’s Cabinet had warned her that they would challenge her leadership of the party unless she became more inclusive, consulted more widely and fired Hill and Timothy.
When she became prime minister, May brought the two loyal aides with her from the Home Office, which she had run for six years. She relied heavily on them, and they were fiercely protective of her but offended many.
Hill is well known for her aggressive treatment of senior ministers and other Downing Street staff, while Timothy is considered responsible for shaping the Conservative election platform, which proved so unpopular with voters that one Conservative member of Parliament, Nigel Evans, said, “We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot; we shot ourselves in the head.”
May’s former director of communications, Katie Perrior, spoke openly Saturday about the behavior of the two aides, which she described as tyrannical, and resulted in an office that was “pretty dysfunctional.”
Writing in The Times of London, Perrior said: “What I could never work out was whether Mrs. May condoned their behavior and turned a blind eye or didn’t understand how destructive they both were. For all the love of a hierarchy, the chiefs treated Cabinet members exactly the same — rude, abusive, childish behavior.”
She told the BBC on Saturday that May now needed “diplomats, not street fighters.” Perrior, who quit before the election, said: “They really only know one way to operate and that’s to have enemies, and I’m sure I’m one of those this morning.”
May announced Friday she would seek to form a new government with the support of the 10 members of Parliament from the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, a predominantly Protestant party with conservative social views.
Rather than simply rely on the DUP for support on key votes, which could mean a negotiation each time, May is seeking to form a more formal coalition with the party, according to reports in the British news media.
The prime minister has sent a team of officials to Belfast to negotiate the details of an alliance with the party, reported Robert Peston of ITV News. He said a senior minister had told him that a coalition would be far preferable to a looser alliance, as it would be more stable.
May has also confirmed that she will keep in place key members of her Cabinet, some of whom were expected to be fired or moved had she won a solid majority in the election.
The prime minister is now considered too weak to make enemies of senior figures in the party, and she spent part of Saturday filling out more junior posts, some of them vacant because their holders lost their seats Thursday.