Hard Brexit in Doubt As U.K. Voters Reject May's Strategy
British voters rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision of a hard Brexit, potentially paving the way for a less abrasive breakup with the European Union.
Seven weeks after she called a snap election to strengthen her hand for the looming divorce talks, May was poised to form a government with the backing of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party after the Conservatives fell short of the seats needed to rule alone.
The shock result plunged the country into political chaos and casts a shadow on divorce talks with the EU due to start in 10 days. European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that “Brexit negotiations should start when U.K. is ready” while European Council President Donald Tusk quipped that “we don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end.”
EU President Jean-Claude Juncker also said they were ready to start talking “tomorrow.”
Hard Or Soft Brexit?
The election threw into question the form of Brexit voters want. While May campaigned to remove the U.K. from the single market so she could regain control of immigration and law-making, she may now struggle to find majority support for that stance in the new House of Commons.
“Hard Brexit went in the rubbish bin tonight,” former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who campaigned to stay in the EU, said on ITV.
The views of Northern Ireland’s DUP will have to be taken into account in exchange for their support of May’s government. The DUP wants a “comprehensive free trade and customs agreement,” and a “frictionless border” with the Irish Republic.
The pound slumped amid another bout of British political uncertainty almost a year since the narrow vote to leave the EU.
Any delay in the Brexit talks will reduce the time the U.K. has to strike an exit deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders as the March 2019 departure date nears. A second election this year is also now a possibility, applying a further squeeze and increasing the chance that the split will prove disorderly.