Theresa May’s motive of calling a snap election has significantly backfired. The purpose of the election was to increase the slender Conservative majority of 2015, allowing the UK’s hand to be strengthened in the challenging Brexit negotiations – negotiations which start in very soon. As a consequence of the hung Parliament, Brexit has become even more complex and even the direction of Brexit has been plunged into uncertainty.
A confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will ensure the Conservatives will form a minority government. The DUP was branded the most Eurosceptic party in the UK before the ascent of UKIP. The Democratic Unionists mirror the Conservative stance of leaving the single market and withdrawing from the customs union, thus being able to formulate a different trading relationship with the European Union. So, DUP representatives propping up the 318 Conservative MPs would not represent a huge change in attitudes towards Brexit. Whilst there seems to be a consensus regarding withdrawal of the single market and customs union, the DUP unequivocally oppose the introduction of a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland. There is a contradiction, here, since withdrawing from the single market means relinquishing freedom of movement. Legally speaking, there would have to be a hard land border. The DUP are opposed to a hard border as support for reunification would skyrocket as a consequence. So, the type of border could prove troublesome and challenging when finalising the nature of the Brexit agreement.
During the through-the-night election coverage, current Brexit secretary, David Davis admitted that losing their majority could amount to the party losing the mandate to take the country out of the single market. Now, the question has to be posed whether the ‘hard’ Brexit will be watered down since a strengthened Conservative majority didn’t materialise. A ‘softer’ Brexit would mean a version of exiting the political institutions but retaining the economic advantages such as either remaining a member of or still having access to, the single market. This would appease Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary, who advocated that Brexit was not an example of severing ties with Europe and putting the economy ahead of immigration. It must be stressed that adopting a softer version of Brexit would produce more continuity than radical change – EU migration would not be able to be controlled and the UK would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The only differences would be that the UK would lose its place on the European Council and the UK would not elect representatives to the Parliament of the European Union. A compromise strategy would also appease Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP who claimed they would “play its part in finding the right way forward for the whole of the UK”. Sturgeon implicitly confirming that a second independence referendum is off the table due to the substantial losses the SNP experienced at this election, with figures such as former leader, Alex Salmond and SNP Westminster leader, Angus Robertson losing their seats. So, would a compromise towards a soft Brexit be the direction the UK takes?
There is a third path the UK could take following the unpredictability the snap election caused. Brexit negotiations which are due to start in 5 days could actually be delayed. Due to the events overnight, the UK is bordering on political paralysis. The Conservatives are eight MPs shy of a majority so that situation needs to be rectified immediately and there is the issue of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Negotiations are expected to commence between Republican party Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists. However, it is difficult to expect negotiations to commence if, as expected, the Democratic Unionist ally with the Conservatives to form the next British government. The reaction about the possibility of negotiations being delayed has caused a mixed reaction from the UK and European officials. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, believes negotiations should be delayed and the Prime Minister must resign. Whereas European Council President, Donald Tusk, and Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker are more optimistic regarding the beginning of negotiations occurring on time.
The ramifications of the hung Parliament for the UK is profound. The direction the country will take is uncertain, to say the least, and presents a plethora of risks. What is for certain is that Brexit has become more complex and more challenging than what was expected on April 18th when the Prime Minister called this election.