Europe

U.K. Election Surprise Throws Brexit Fate Into Doubt

It seems things have not turned out quite as expected for Theresa May and her Conservative government in the U.K.

The plan was to call early elections, pick up more Conservative seats in Parliament and enter into Brexit negotiations with a more powerful mandate to pursue a hard Brexit that would have seen the U.K. leave the European single market.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

When British voters actually went to the polls, things turned out quite differently. May’s government not only didn’t end up with a a stronger majority — Conservatives have lost their majority entirely (though they still hold the largest number of seats of any single party in Parliament).  That means today Prime Minister May will have to ask the Queen for permission to form a government in coalition with one of the other smaller parties — which, at this point, can only be Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, since Labour and the SNP are fundamentally politically opposed to the Tories and the Liberal Democratic party is fundamentally opposed to the Brexit.

If May is unable to form a government, Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbin Labour’s leader could attempt to form and lead a minority government with SNP and the Liberal Democrats. And, adding further confusion, most experts believe that British voters — despite their votes — actually have no appetite at all for coalition government. That means this election will likely be something of a placeholder election with another round soon to come.

So what does all this mean for the Brexit — which is set to begin negotiations in ten days?

That remains up in the air, since much of the point of Prime Minister May calling said elections when she was not required to for another several years was to strengthen her hand to play hardball with EU leaders in negotiating Britain’s exit from the European union.  Voters didn’t giver her that — and at this point it has been widely speculated that May will step down as Prime Minister, having thrown away the second Conservative governing majority in the last 18 years. But the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats — both of which campaigned on reversing Brexit or taking a second referendum vote — also failed to wrack up big gains, so it is hard to read the election result as a full repudiation of the Brexit vote a year ago.

The short answer — for now, it seems — is stayed tuned, as the Brexit negotiations the world thought it was getting a week ago almost certainly aren’t happening — and it doesn’t seem that anyone has any idea what the actual negotiations will look like when they start up in a little over a week.

We’ll keep you posted.

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