British MPs returned to Westminster today (13th June) following last week’s election. After her electoral humiliation, the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May could be regretting that she put the future of her Conservative party above the national British interest in calling a premature election. Her party has survived as the largest single electoral block in the UK, but it lost 11 seats and its parliamentary majority in the process, thereby forcing a hung parliament.
At the time of writing Number 10 is still trying to find an accommodation with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to support a new minority Conservative government. The DUP are in favour of a free trade block in Ireland, but come with some historical baggage that may not win the trust of other smaller political parties on the island. Theresa May’s own future looks fragile, as she must take responsibility for a dire election platform and campaign, which contained some controversial policies that did nothing to win her party votes, such as the proposals she flagged up on the financing of long-term care for senior citizens, some bizarre throw away remarks about permitting fox hunting and poor media performances.
Perhaps the only two positive messages that the Conservatives might have taken from these election results are that a second referendum in Scotland, which looked a distinct possibility earlier this year, has now been firmly kicked into the long grass by the Scottish electorate. The Scottish conservative leader Ruth Davidson and her party managed to win 8 seats in Scotland. The Scottish Nationalist Party lost 21 seats, which many have interpreted as a rejection of the idea of another referendum on independence; but they remain the leading party in Scotland and the party with the 3rd largest number of members in the UK as a whole. They will therefore be a force to be reckoned with in opposition. Secondly, the other positive message for the Conservatives will have been the wipe-out of the UK Independence Party, which lost more than 11% of their vote and now look set to sink permanently under the UK political horizon.
But Britain looks to be stumbling unprepared into its Article 50 negotiations when they begin on 19th June next week. There is every prospect of a stalemate developing rather quickly this summer on the three critical areas that Michel Barnier has signalled to be the starting point for the EU’s negotiating position, namely the “divorce bill” or the UK’s financial settlement for leaving the EU, the rights of EU citizens and borderless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire. These three issues each present formidable challenges to the British Government, which will anticipate a hostile tabloid press and criticism from a resurgent Eurosceptic right wing to the Conservative party for any kind of quick accommodation in any one of these areas.
So we face a long hot summer of interesting and unpredictable politics in the UK on the theme of the direction that the country’s leaders are taking its citizens. With the heat turning up, which way will they jump?
There is still a distinct lack of political and media honesty in the UK in explaining to the British public exactly what are the stark economic implications of the UK leaving the EU, withdrawal from the single EU market and withdrawal from the Customs Union.
Looking down the tunnel ahead, these are the un-negotiated destinations to which the United Kingdom appears to be headed – all in the interests of preserving the unity of the British Conservative Party. Which version of the story do you believe? That the UK can have its cake and eat it? Or that there will be a lot of salt and vinegar, but no pommes frites to shake them onto?