The result of the UK General Election has given rise to an additional layer of complexity for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
The Prime Minister had called the election in the hope of obtaining an increased majority in Parliament, which in turn could be taken as a mandate for her to conduct Brexit negotiations in accordance with the Government’s previously stated objectives as set out in our earlier blog posts (Theresa May sets out Brexit vision; The Article 50 Bill and the Government’s Brexit White Paper).
Although the Conservatives remain the largest party, they fell short of an overall majority. Theresa May has confirmed that she intends to remain as Prime Minister and plans to form a working majority with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, questions have been raised as to how the result will affect her authority particularly with regard to negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Further, the outcome of the election has raised questions as to whether the loss of the Conservative’s majority will lead to a change in the UK’s Brexit negotiating stance, for example, perhaps making a ‘soft Brexit’ more likely. In particular, it is notable that Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, has previously stated that “No-one wants to see a hard Brexit”. The DUP will likely also be keen to ensure that there is no hard border with the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.
Brexit negotiations had been due to start on 19 June. Whether meaningful discussions can take place on that date is now open to doubt. Earlier today, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, indicated that “negotiations should start when UK is ready”, although the Prime Minister subsequently suggested that they would commence in the coming days as planned. Certainly, the date by which negotiations must be completed remains unchanged and all parties will be anxious to avoid losing time.