The results are now complete, with the Conservative Party losing its overall majority (the infamous “hung parliament” scenario). At time of writing, the Conservatives seem to have decided that they can form a government with the help of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 members of parliament.
The two biggest unanswered questions that the election result has thrown up are (1) what happens to the UK exit from the EU (aka Brexit) and (2) will a Conservative-DUP coalition be able to survive for any length of time? Thoughts on both topics below.
I do not understand all of the earnest back-and-forth over “hard” or “soft Brexit (except that it does rather remind me of the discussions over pornography in the 1970’s…but i digress).
The UK has already given notice under Article 50 of its intent to leave the EU. That triggered a 2 year negotiation period. That clock started running a while ago.
The idea that the UK electorate has voted against Brexit, or has somehow voted against “hard” Brexit, makes no sense to me. The electorate could have sent a clear signal that they disapproved of Brexit by voting for candidates from other parties who supported the UK staying in the UE. They did not do so. I therefore have to assume that the UK electorate is either in favor of Brexit, or is resigned to it happening. The electorate voted in a way that weakened both of the pro-EU parties. That is not a “stop Brexit” message.
All of the signs are that the EU is definitely resigned to the UK leaving, and wants it to happen as expeditiously as possible.
As for the hard vs. soft concept…well, the UK has limited leverage in negotiations. When you are trying to leave a club, you don’t have many cards to play. If the UK wants to have an orderly Brexit, it will have to make concessions, A LOT of concessions. Anybody banging on about how the UK can be tough on EU negotiations was clearly asleep when Greece tried to re-negotiate its debt burden, or they came down from the hillside with the last rainstorm.
The UK, in truly petulant fashion, told the EU “We’re leaving” last Summer. The only credible way that the UK would be able to reverse that would have been to elect a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and the SNP dictating the terms. This did not happen.
Brexit is happening, whether the UK likes it or not. The UK election results changed a lot of UK political dynamics, but they will not change Brexit.
However, nobody in the UK who supported Brexit seems to be able to explain how the UK will create 750+ trading agreements to replace the existing agreements that the EU has with other countries. I call this the Clegg Question. Nick Clegg, who actually knows a lot about the EU, having studied it and worked within it, asked this question last year after the original referendum result, and the question was greeted with The Sound Of Silence, followed by soothing bullshit along the lines of “well of course the rest of the world wants to trade with us!”
In summary, many Brexit supporters seem to be confidently assuming a stampede by other countries to trade with us after the UK leaves the EU, an assumption that has next to no evidence to support it. Many countries that trade with the EU will want to continue that arrangement, the UK being a smaller trading partner than the rest of the EU. I am forced to conclude that a lot of the driver for the assumptions around Brexit is an outdated view not only of how world trade operates, but also of how important the UK is when compared to established trading blocs like the EU, NAFTA etc.
2. The fate of the Conservative-DUP coalition
It is unlikely that any coalition government between the Conservative Party and the DUP will survive more than a few months. The coalition will have only a tiny majority, and unless a working “nod and wink” back-channel arrangement is made with one of the other parties to bolster the majority, It will only take one disagreement between the coalition parties to end the tenure of the government. In this kind of situation, the coalition partner has disproportionate power, and the DUP is not a forward-looking party committed to equal rights for all orientations and groupings, which may lead to problems sooner rather than later.
The UK is a rudderless ship. Markets dislike uncertainty, hence the decline in the value of the Pound during and after the election result declarations.
The reason the ship is rudderless is that the UK electorate has been making bad decisions for the last 10 years. They first turned down the Alternative Vote proposal in a referendum, which would have made the entire electoral system a lot more representative of the voting patterns of the electorate (needless to say, the two existing major parties, beneficiaries of the “first past the post” system, campaigned against AV, successfully).
Then they decided to vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU, in a referendum marked by inept messaging by the Remain groups, and nativist, nationalistic and (in some cases) outright racist messaging by the Leave groups.
Now it is not entirely clear what they have decided. They almost took the car keys away from the Conservatives, but somebody picked them up off the floor and gave them back, with conditions. There are claims that the vote was against Brexit, but that seems illogical. My cynical take is that, overall, the electorate decided it didn’t much care for the Conservative Party’s governance, but is clueless about what to do instead.
The only good aspect of the election is that young people seem to have turned up to vote in large numbers.