9, June 2017
Britain wakes up Friday morning more divided and uncertain about its future than anyone thought possible. A general election that was supposed to settle political and constitutional questions thrown up by Britain’s exit from the European Union failed — answering none, raising more and leaving no party with a majority in parliament.
From a position of relative strength, dominating a compliant parliament which had accepted Brexit, Theresa May is now struggling to cling on to her job, unsure whether she will even be able to form a minority government. After a night of political drama which saw Labour’s vote share surge by 10 points, halving the 2010 deficit, three things now seem certain: May is mortally wounded; Jeremy Corbyn is safe as Labour party leader for as long as he wants; and Britain is in for a prolonged period of political instability which may only be solved by a second general election.
If Brussels had come round to the prospect of an unyielding two-year Brexit negotiation under May — grating in its parochialism maybe, but at least grown up — they now face the nightmare prospect of a new partner across the table or a weakened May beholden to her backbenchers and a small retinue of Northern Irish MPs.
A hung parliament — in which no single party commands a majority — is certain. Her future as prime minister hangs by a thread. She could be gone by the end of the day. A second general election could be called within months — taking place as early as August. Brexit is also now up in the air — as even David Davis admitted.
The Brexit Secretary told Sky News at 2.30am that the election was, in part, about getting a mandate for “the sort of Brexit we want.” It was also designed to give the government more time to complete the process by ensuring that the incoming administration would have a clear five years before having to call an election.
He suggested the U.K. government may have lost a mandate to exit customs union and single market. “[Our manifesto] said we wanted to leave the customs union and the single market, but get access to them. That’s what it was about, that’s what we put in front of the British people, we’ll see by tomorrow whether they’ve accepted that or not,” he said.
Nigel Farage was quick to warn that he would re-enter the political fray if Brexit was softened. “We may well be looking down the barrel of a second referendum.” The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland — potential king-makers if the Tories are to remain in power — will look to soften Brexit around the edges, particularly in order to ensure there is no threat to the soft border with the Republic of Ireland, so crucial for the region’s economic security.
Boris Johnson is the most obvious Tory winner from the fallout. When a steady but uninspiring leader has been found wanting, they may turn to a tried and tested winner with the charisma to take on Corbyn. Boris Johnson was already “sharpening the knives for Theresa May,” Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said.