Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS
Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS

Britain’s shock election result with the Conservative Party on track to lose its majority, raises many questions about where the country goes from here as Brexit negotiations loom. They range from the future of Prime Minister Theresa May to what the split from the European Union will look like. Here are some of the most pertinent questions: 

1. What exactly is a hung parliament?When no single party has a majority of seats in the House of Commons. That’s what happened in 2010, when the Conservatives went on to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. The other option is to try to govern with a minority, relying on smaller parties to support legislation. It’s worth remembering that the total number of seats, for the purposes of calculating working majorities, is less than 650. The speaker and deputy speakers don’t vote and Sinn Fein, which won four seats in the last parliament, doesn’t take its seats, shrinking the number needed for a majority to less than 326.

2. Who has the numbers to form a government?

If the range of latest projections is correct, then May will probably reach a working majority via an alliance with Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, and may have enough seats to govern alone. Even with the seats of potential allies, Labour would have fewer seats than the Tories, according to BBC and PA projections as of 4 a.m. The final results won’t be available until midday on Friday.

3. Will May resign?If she fails to win a majority - or wins a very slender one - she would probably face calls to resign. May called the election earlier than she needed to, and made the campaign all about her personal leadership. Even before election night, senior Tories were privately furious about the way the campaign was managed. 

The Conservatives are traditionally more ruthless than the Labour Party in getting rid of underperforming leaders, and get less bogged down by internal party democracy when choosing the replacement.

4. Who are the leading candidates to replace her?

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, has seen her profile enhanced during the campaign: she stood in for May in a key election debate and was forced into the limelight by the two terrorist attacks. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, one of the most popular Tory politicians, was the figurehead of the Brexit campaign last year and stopped short of making a leadership bid in the aftermath. Bookmakers slashed the odds for Johnson to become prime minister after the exit poll.

5. What could this mean for Brexit?First off it will likely delay the divorce talks due to start the week after next. It could also deprive the EU of the familiar negotiating partner they expected to have in May. More planning may be needed, eating into the time available to strike a deal before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

If the Conservatives cling on to power then those lawmakers who sought the hardest of Brexits could still hold sway. That would leave May or her successor with less scope to cut deals with the EU in return for a trade accord or post-Brexit transitional arrangement.

By contrast, the election result could be interpreted by the next government as a call from voters to soften Brexit, forcing it to do more to safeguard access to the single market for goods and services.

The views of Northern Ireland’s DUP could also come into play if the Conservatives end up dependent on them to govern. The DUP wants a “comprehensive free trade and customs agreement,” and a “frictionless border” with the Irish Republic.

6. What does it mean for keeping the U.K. together?
The exit poll suggests the Scottish National Party ceded ground, possibly losing more than twice the number of lawmakers that senior party officials were expecting. The nationalists, though, still would have a clear majority of Scotland’s seats. So while the result might undermine their push for another independence referendum, they also have the potential to play a greater role in Westminster. That could be as part of a block opposing a weakened Conservative government or propping up a new leadership.

 - Bloomberg



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