The British have voted for a “soft Brexit”

A transformation has taken place in the balance of power in Great Britain. After the general election, the conservative government now needs to form an alliance if it is to continue ruling the country at all. And this new alliance is good for Great Britain as well as for the European Union, as it raises the prospects of a “soft Brexit”.

Theresa May is the great loser of the general election in Great Britain. In April she called a snap election – her party given a very comfortable lead in the opinion polls at that time and excellent approval ratings for herself. She was expected to win a landslide victory. But things turned out very differently: the Tories have remained the strongest power, but they have lost their absolute majority.

Following this major election defeat, the Conservatives have now agreed on principle to work together with the Northern Irish Conservative party DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). It seems that the DUP will support a minority government under May. However, the Tories will not be given this support for nothing. The demands being made by the DUP will be greatly focused on Northern Ireland affairs. This could upset the political balance in Great Britain as a whole and in Northern Ireland in particular.

The great winner of the general election was the head of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Competing in the election as leader of a divided party and considered by most Britons to be unelectable and weak, both he and Labour managed to gain a significant number of seats in parliament compared with 2015. The success of Corbyn and the Labour Party was underpinned by huge support from younger sections of the electorate. The election campaign, that was consistently focused on social themes, fell on very fertile soil in these segments of the population.

A trend is therefore continuing in Great Britain that could already be noted in the USA and also frequently in France. Social stability and participation are themes that are increasingly entering the political mainstream and being advocated especially by younger sections of the electorate. The social discrepancy between the established and the younger segments of the population is becoming increasingly obvious. No such development has become apparent in Germany until now. But the concerns of the younger electorate should be taken more seriously in order to achieve a social solution here.

The fact that Theresa May did not immediately step down following this defeat came as a further surprise. But this decision is most likely attributable to the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. The negotiations on Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are to commence on 19 June. A resignation on the part of May at this point in time would delay the formation of a government since it would mean that the Tories would have to find a new party leader and Prime Minister.

However, the Brexit negotiations must have reached a conclusion in autumn 2018 to enable the parliaments to give the green light for the negotiation results before Brexit becomes official in spring 2019. Prolonging the negotiations would appear difficult to reconcile at this juncture. Thus, as things stand there is simply no time for a resignation on the part of May. It is likely, however, that May will resign after a government has been formed. But this would not disrupt the Brexit negotiations.

The election result will also have consequences for the Brexit talks in terms of the demands being made. Prime Minister Theresa May, or a potential successor, will be in a visibly weakened position on entering the negotiations. While the initial strategy is unlikely to change substantially, the DUP can be expected to make crucial demands. Northern Ireland has close economic ties to the Republic of Ireland which is and will remain part of the EU. For this reason, the DUP will be careful to ensure that the economic relations with Ireland (and, by extension, with the rest of the EU) are not greatly impaired. But this can only be achieved in return for concessions in the areas of immigration and freedom of movement.

The Tories’ narrow majority in the new parliament and a coalition government are therefore likely to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a hard line in the Brexit talks. For when the negotiations are over, the government will have to secure a majority for the result in parliament, and this will not be possible for the currently proposed strategy of a hard Brexit.

The EU Commission will also step up the pressure in the negotiations since the negotiation concepts will most certainly also reflect the shift in power here. Thus, the probability of a moderate outcome for the Brexit negotiations has risen noticeably following this election.

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