Sunday

14th Apr 2024

UK election puts Brexit talks in doubt

  • May might have to fight for her own survival (Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

The British election has put in doubt Tory plans for Brexit talks and prime minister Theresa May’s continued leadership.

The surprise outcome, which saw the ruling Conservative Party lose its parliamentary majority, meant that the British public did not endorse its manifesto pledge to quit the EU single market, David Davis, the minister in charge of leaving the EU, said.

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  • Corbyn-led coalition could call second EU referendum (Photo: Matthew Kirby)

“It [the manifesto] said we want to leave the customs union and single market, but get access to them, and to have a deep and special relationship with Europe”, Davis told the Sky News broadcaster at 2AM on Friday (9 June), as the Tory losses became clear.

"That’s what it was about. That’s what we put in front of the people. We’ll see tomorrow whether they’ve accepted that or not. That will be their decision,” he said.

The election outcome meant that the Conservatives must form a coalition with the DUP, a unionist party in Northern Ireland, to stay in power.

But the DUP’s conditions might also go against the Tory manifesto.

“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”, DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News on Friday.

The hung parliament is likely to see the Brexit talks, which were due to start on 19 June, postponed.

It might also see May, who called the early election to boost her authority on Brexit, fight for her survival.

She said on Friday that “at this time, more than anything else, this country needs a period of stability”, adding that her “resolve” to steer the UK through Brexit was “the same this morning as it has always been”.

Some Tory MPs backed her, with David Gauke, a treasury secretary, saying “given that we’ve got really important negotiations beginning in 10 days’ time” it was the party’s “responsibility … to support her”.

But others, such as Anna Soubry, said May was "in a very difficult place … she now has to obviously consider her position".

The opposition Labour Party, which gained dozens of seats on Thursday, also called for May to go.

"I was expecting Boris Johnson [the British foreign minister] to launch his leadership campaign tonight. But clearly not tonight, maybe tomorrow”, John McDonnell, a Labour MP, said.

One other scenario is a grand coalition involving the Labour Party, the Liberals, the Scottish National Party (SNP), Welsh party Plaid Cymru, and a Green MP.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has flip-flopped on Brexit, but for some eurosceptics, a Corbyn-led coalition posed the danger of a second referendum on EU membership.

“If tomorrow we finished up with Jeremy Corbyn forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, I would assume the price would be a second referendum two years down the road”, Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip, an anti-EU party, said.

Ukip’s own vote collapsed on Thursday, with even its party leader, Paul Nuttal, failing to win a seat.

The SNP also lost seats to Labour, with Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, among the victims.

The SNP had campaigned on a promise to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence in order to stay in the EU after the UK left.

“There was one big issue in this campaign … and the country’s reaction to that”, Ruth Davidson, a Scottish Tory MP, said.

Murdo Fraser, another Scottish Tory MP, said that the election result "knocks out the idea of a second independence referendum for a long, long time".

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