Prime Minister Theresa May, back in April, called for a three-year early general election assuming her Conservative Party would win handily and come out with a majority in parliament — her assumptions, however, were wrong.
Her party won 318 out of the required 326 seats required for a majority after having controlled 331 of those seats prior to the election. No party came out with a majority, which resulted in a Hung Parliament; this means that no party has a clear and outright mandate to form the new government.
May managed to secure a formal coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to operate on with a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement whereby DUP will support a minority government on vital matters in return for their own policies to be enacted. The agreement largely sprung out of DUP’s dismay at the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister — an alternative which they found “intolerable.” They went as far as to state that, “for as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM.”
Seeing as DUP’s overarching ideology aligns fairly closely with the Conservative Party, there will likely not be a lot of policy differences. However, there is one policy issue, one of epic proportions, in which the two parties and their leaders differ — Brexit.
Article 50 was triggered by May on March 29th, with negotiations are starting in merely a few days. While DUP favors leaving the union which binds the European nations together, they still want strong ties to Europe. In an interview, Arlene Foster, leader of DUP said, “No-one wants to see a hard Brexit, what we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that’s what the national vote was about — therefore, we need to get on with that.”
A hard Brexit, as Foster mentioned, refers to the U.K. not becoming members of the European Economic Area (EEA) following the departure of the Union. This has been a very contentious point following the Brexit-referendum; the Leave campaign in 2016 ran on promises proclaiming that leaving the EU would rid them of the £350 million (£190 million accounting for rebates) membership fee, EU immigration mandates, and binding EU laws — but becoming EEA members, (soft Brexit) as opposed to EU members, would not change any of these issues.
Prime Minister May have been quite adamant on pushing a hard Brexit. Leading up to her appointment as PM in the leadership election following David Cameron’s resignation, May’s campaign slogan even became “Brexit means Brexit,” as a way to affirm her commitment to the United Kingdom’s hard exit from the Union. However, she may fall short on her promise.
In addition to DUP’s reluctance to a hard Brexit, May’s negotiating power has greatly diminished following the results of the election. During the election, May had stated— in what some interpreted as an ultimatum— that unless the Conservative Party managed to secure a majority in parliament, her authority and negotiating powers would be destroyed. Already, we see this to hold true with MEP Gianni Pitella stating, “The British people just punished the clear incompetence of Theresa May. She tried to gamble on the shoulders of the UK and EU citizens” and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeting, “Could be messy for the United Kingdom in the years ahead. One mess risks following another. Price to be paid for lack of true leadership.”
David Davis, who is officially assigned to oversee the withdrawal from the EU, stated in an interview that the Conservative Party would have to go back and revisit the the pledge that to take the U.K. out of the European single market and customs union.
With the majority of the vote-shift coming from people disgruntled by the decision to the leave the EU, further pressure is put on May to reach an agreement that would not include a hard exit from the Union. Even before the election, a hard Brexit would come at an immense cost, and with the decreasing negotiating power from the U.K. following the election, it will be near impossible.
Negotiations are set to be under way before the end of June, and before then, it would be presumptuous to dismiss the possibility of a hard Brexit altogether. However, supporters of a hard Brexit ought to be weary; the end of a hard Brexit draws nigh.