Good­bye to Hard Brexit

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Louise Tillin Louise Tillin is se­nior lec­turer in Pol­i­tics, King’s In­dia In­sti­tute, King’s Col­lege, Lon­don

Af­ter the third na­tional elec­tion in two years (two gen­eral elec­tions and the Brexit ref­er­en­dum), the Bri­tish pub­lic are watch­ing the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment strug­gle to make sense of a deeply frac­tured man­date.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May called fresh gen­eral elec­tions to strengthen her hand in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions. Run­ning a heav­ily per­son­alised cam­paign that promised ‘strong and sta­ble lead­er­ship’, she hoped to cash in on her high ap­proval rat­ings and on the dis­mally low rat­ings of her key op­po­nent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn.

The re­sults—a hung par­lia­ment, with the Con­ser­va­tives hang­ing on as largest party but with­out a ma­jor­ity, and large gains by Labour— have turned the elec­toral land­scape on its head.

What hap­pened? In part, this is a story of ma­jor re­ver­sals in party for­tunes dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. The Con­ser­va­tive Party faced con­tro­ver­sies over its man­i­festo (a de­ci­sion not to cap so­cial care bills for the el­derly was la­belled a ‘de­men­tia tax’ that would pe­nalise those with more com­plex med­i­cal con­di­tions), May ap­peared aloof and ar­ro­gant, de­clin­ing to ap­pear in tele­vised lead­ers’ de­bates and re­fused to en­gage on her in­tended strat­egy in up­com­ing Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In the fi­nal weeks, ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Manch­ester and Lon­don left the Con­ser­va­tives un­der fire from Labour for over­see­ing a drop in po­lice num­bers. Mean­while, much of the elec­tion de­bate fo­cused not on Brexit, but on the state of pub­lic ser­vices and aus­ter­ity. None of this could have been pre­dicted at the out­set of the cam­paign.

Usu­ally vot­ers make up their mind be­fore the cam­paign and some seats are deemed so safe, par­ties don’t bother to con­test them se­ri­ously. Brexit up­set many of those cer­tain­ties this time.

The sup­port base of the United Kingdom In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP), the pop­ulist anti­im­mi­gra­tion and pro­Brexit party, evap­o­rated. The Con­ser­va­tives picked up most of the UKIP vote in Leave vot­ing seats—a con­stituency to whom May ap­pealed with her ‘hard Brexit’ plat­form. They lost sup­port in Re­main vot­ing ar­eas, es­pe­cially Eng­lish univer­sity towns.

The class ba­sis of vot­ing shifted, with the Con­ser­va­tives do­ing bet­ter in work­ing class north­ern Eng­lish seats, and Labour—the tra­di­tional party of the work­ing class—do­ing well in mid­dle class, ur­ban seats. The elec­tions also con­firmed a gen­er­a­tional di­vide in Bri­tish pol­i­tics. The ma­jor un­cer­tainty go­ing in to the elec­tion had been whether young peo­ple, who are more pro­Euro­pean and have been en­thused by Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship of the Labour Party, would turn out to vote in force. They ap­pear to have been an im­por­tant fac­tor in many seats won by Labour.

What next? May’s lead­er­ship now looks any­thing but ‘strong and sta­ble’, and her stand­ing is ir­repara­bly dam­aged within her own party. She is at­tempt­ing to reach a gov­ern­ing ar­range­ment with the 10 MPs of the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP) in North­ern Ire­land. But the main ques­tion is how long May will last be­fore there is a lead­er­ship chal­lenge within the party, or a vote of no confidence in par­lia­ment.

Gov­ern­ment ap­point­ments since the elec­tion in­di­cate softer Brexit voices may be given greater space. Op­po­si­tion MPs want par­lia­ment to have more say in scru­ti­n­is­ing the Brexit strat­egy. The re­sults may there­fore lead to some soft­en­ing of the ap­proach to Brexit, but a weak­ened May will also face a more united bloc of EU lead­ers who will seek con­ces­sions from the UK that en­sure their own vot­ers do not view life out­side the EU as an at­trac­tive cause. The chances of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions col­laps­ing have also in­creased.

Brexit will over­shadow all other for­eign pol­icy de­bates for the next few years. While May’s first non­Euro­pean over­seas visit as prime min­is­ter was to In­dia, there will be lim­ited band­width in this new gov­ern­ment for fo­cus­ing on post­Brexit re­la­tion­ships such as that with In­dia.

The elec­tion does open the pos­si­bil­ity of rolling back pro­pos­als such as in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in im­mi­gra­tion tar­gets. Bri­tish busi­nesses and uni­ver­si­ties will sup­port it, and it will be good news for In­dian stu­dents seek­ing to study in the UK.

The ques­tion now is how long May will last till there is a lead­er­ship chal­lenge within her party

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.