With the clock ticking away towards the UK leaving the EU in March 2019, last week’s election result of a hung parliament was certainly not what the Prime Minister was looking for. Neither was it, from a Brexit point of view at least, what the UK needed.
Brexit negotiations are due to begin on the 19th June and the clear mandate that Theresa May sought in order to push for the Conservative version of Brexit has not materialised. Indeed, failing to win a majority following her decision to call a surprise general election has only served to weaken her position within her own party, the country and at the negotiating table with the EU.
Already we’re hearing voices from Germany calling for an extension to Brexit whilst the UK gets its house in order. Perhaps emerging signs of how the countries at the heart of Europe are desperate for Brexit to work for both sides.
However, Guy Verhofstead, a lead EU Brexit negotiator, is more scathing, describing the situation as “Yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated”.
So how does it all affect Brexit?
It is as yet unclear whether this damaging result for the PM will result in any delay to the negotiations, although EU Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger stated “No government – no negotiations” when asked if talks on the UK’s departure from the EU can begin as planned on 19th June.
At the time of writing, it appears that she will not be stepping down as leader of her own volition. However, it’s possible that she could come under severe pressure from within her own party to step aside. If that transpires and her leadership is challenged, it would surely throw the start of Brexit negotiations into major doubt. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will need to know that he’s talking to the right person.
Without a clear goal or mandate it appears difficult to even begin talks, whilst Theresa May’s hard Brexit approach was not universally popular it was the simplest and provided the least complicated platform to initiate trade discussions. The likelihood of successfully negotiating access to the highly complex Single Market or Customs area, all whilst withdrawing from the legislation and the treaties that underpin it, seems fanciful and, frankly, highly unlikely in a two-year time frame.
It seems inevitable that Brexit negotiations will be even more difficult than before. Instability in our government will greatly concern The EU negotiators. A weak negotiating partner can only increase uncertainty and lead to the process becoming even more complicated. Further down the line there’s more chance of talks breaking down.
Whether May stays or not, it appears inevitable that the government’s plans for Brexit will need to be reviewed as any legislation regarding Brexit would need to get backing from the other parties within the House of Commons. The original plan for a hard Brexit may have to be reconsidered. Perhaps there might even be a backtracking on the decision to come out of the customs union and/or single market.
David Davis has indicated that an unrealistic exit bill – which has been suggested as varying figures up to £100bn – could result in the UK walking away from negotiations. As the EU are adamant that this issue is resolved before they even discuss a trade deal, the knock-on effect for UK business could be calamitous.
So the future for Brexit remains, as ever, frustratingly unclear. But one thing is without question; if Theresa May does still see herself as the person to take the UK forward and into talks with the EU, she has an enormous amount of work to do.
And the clock is ticking…..