British Prime Minister Theresa May stumbled through a speech on Wednesday, beset by a coughing fit, a failing voice, and the intervention of a satirist.
Four months after an election debacle that cost her a majority in Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May stumbled through a speech at her Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester on Wednesday, beset by a coughing fit, a failing voice, and the intervention of a satirist who interrupted her address to hand her a prank notice that she had been fired.
May had hoped to convince members of her party and the British public that the United Kingdom is in safe hands as she leads it out of the European Union, but the Conservative conference instead highlighted the disarray at the top level of a government still deeply divided over Brexit.
The comedian who handed May the fake P45 form (the British equivalent of a pink slip), before being ejected from the hall, shouted that he had been put up to the stunt by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who is widely believed to have his eyes on toppling or succeeding May.
Later in the speech, the set behind May further sabotaged her, as the letter F fell off a slogan promising that the Conservatives would ensure that the U.K. “works for everyone.”
During one prolonged coughing fit that forced the prime minister to halt her address, Johnson was seen being scolded by Home Secretary Amber Rudd — another possible contender for the party leadership after May — for not taking part in a standing ovation offered in sympathy by members of the cabinet.
After the speech mercifully ended, May’s bracelet was also singled out as somewhat off-message.
Earlier in the week, Johnson suffered a self-inflicted wound when he attempted to joke about the dire state of affairs in Libya during a speech to a gathering on the conference sidelines. Audio of the speech caught the foreign secretary joking that the Libyan city of Sirte could soon be a “new Dubai” once the bodies are cleared away.
Another pretender to May’s throne, “the fogeyish Old Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg,” in the journalist Rachel Sylvester’s resonant phrase, also did some damage to his party’s public image during an encounter with a young protester at the conference. After Rees-Mogg attempted to debate the protester, left-wing activist Shabbir Lakha, the MP was thoroughly out-argued once the discussion turned to the real-world impact of Conservative policies.