Another election came to an end on June 8, 2017, called specifically to give Theresa May, the incumbent prime minister, a ‘stronger hand’ in her dealings with the European Union (EU), when Britain goes to Brexit negotiations on June 19, 2017. She offered Britain’s decision to leave the EU — officially known as the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, on Mar 29, 2017.
So, she had a few weeks to ‘strengthen her hands’ under her ‘strong and stable’ leadership! She had an 15-seat overall majority in the House of Commons in the last Parliament, but that was considered to be insufficient to give her a free rein in her negotiations with the EU. When she found that the Tory party was more than 20 percentage points ahead of the opposition Labour party and the Labour party was in complete disarray, the temptation to get a new mandate on her own for five years with a large majority (about 100 or so) was too strong to resist. But hardly did she realise that elections in the present turbulent world were too unpredictable.
After seven weeks of acrimonious electioneering and two murderous Islamic terrorist attacks — one in Manchester, killing 22 people, and the other in London, killing 8 people — the process came to an end on June 8. It was almost universally accepted that Theresa May would win comfortably, the only question was how comfortably? But when at 10 pm on the day of the election, the exit poll result was announced that there would be a hung parliament, with the Tories falling short of an overall majority, there was a collective gasp of incredulity. No political party, not even the opposition parties, no pundit, no newscaster was willing to accept the exit poll result and everybody started saying that it was only an exit poll, not the final result. However, the following day when the final result was announced, it was found that the exit poll result was pretty accurate — the Conservatives won 318 seats, 8 seats short of an overall majority!
This was the third time in three years that the outcomes of two general elections and a referendum were turned upside down. At the 2015 general election, David Cameron, the incumbent prime minister, thought he would win as the largest party but would not get an overall majority. It was a big surprise to him and his election team when he got a 15-seat overall majority. So, he formed a government on his own without any restraining influence of a coalition partner. That was the beginning of an existential problem for Britain.
Prior to the 2015 election, David Cameron conceded to the demands of his right-wing elements (and there are plenty) of his party that, should the Tory party win the election, there would be a referendum on Britain remaining in the EU and that referendum must be held before the end of 2017. As David Cameron did not expect to win the election with a majority, this undertaking was entirely academic. But when he won the election against all predictions, that was the beginning of a British national problem. He had to give way on the referendum question. He agreed to have the EU referendum on 23 June 2016.
The survey results showed that remaining in the EU, which David Cameron passionately supported, would win hands down. The Remain group was more than 20 points ahead of the Brexit group. But then all the right-wing elements, including overseas financiers and vested interests, coalesced and campaigned collectively to persuade the British public to vote for Brexit. On top of that, some of the opportunistic British politicians started dishing out brazen lies such as £350 million pound per week (which is Britain’s total contribution to the EU for running the EU, covering joint security, agricultural subsidy, university grants and research and development programmes, regeneration of depressed areas, etc) would be available to the NHS. These right-wing uncouth politicians did not mention that should £350 million be diverted to the NHS, there would be no money for agricultural subsidy, university grants, etc.
However, the referendum was held on 23 June, 2016 and the proponents of Brexit won 51.8 per cent against 48.2 per cent for the Remain camp. There was political consternation not only in Britain but also throughout the whole of Europe and indeed around the world. How could Britain take such a suicidal decision to leave the EU and go away from its biggest trading partners? David Cameron resigned immediately and there was political soul searching.
Theresa May, a Remainer in the EU referendum but who changed colour just at the appropriate time to Brexiteer when opportunity beckoned, became the new prime minister and declared, ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Her strident call that Britain would leave the EU, no matter what, alarmed not only businesses but also the general public, whose living standards are very much dependent on flourishing trade and business, collaborative research and development, etc. She became so aggressive that instead of calling the forthcoming negotiations as Britain’s exit negotiation, she started calling it as a battle. She realised that her battle cry might alarm the public and some MPs from her side might go against her; she needed a large majority and hence this call for a general election.
As it turned out that this election was nothing other than a self-inflicted wound by Theresa May. Whereas she had a slim majority previously, now she falls short of a majority by seven seats. She has formed a government with the help of Northern Ireland’s sectarian party called the DUP. The DUP with 10 seats will exact a heavy price and hold the Tory party of 318 seats by the neck, only because Theresa May wanted to be the leader of a ‘strong and stable’ government and conduct her battle with the EU.
This so-called battle by Britain against the EU to tear itself apart from the EU after 44 years of coexistence is totally ludicrous and suicidal. Instead of an amicable and friendly separation, the xenophobic right-wing elements want a showdown. The root cause of this extreme adversarial demeanour of the Tory party is the imperialistic ambition of the right-wing elements of the party. They hanker after the old times when Britain ‘ruled the waves’ and ‘the sun never set on the British Empire’.
Now Theresa May running a minority government is not only solely dependent and at the mercy of the DUP but also at the hands of various factions of her party. No minority government has ever lasted more than a year. So, when the EU negotiation starts within 10 days’ time and continues until the fixed exit date of Mar 29, 2019, it is quite likely that Theresa May will be dislodged, a new election may be held and negotiations will go bonkers.
This is all owing to the internal squabble of the Tory party. The process of a debunking of the party started with the EU referendum, which was totally unnecessary and blatantly damaging to the country. The delusional xenophobic right-wing Tory party produced a Brexit prime minister who has become a captive not only of the extremist elements of her party but also of a fringe Northern Ireland party able to can make her turn round at will. On top of that, she has lost credibility within the moderate wing of her party. This damaged prime minister can hardly be a suitable leader of the country to conduct exit negotiations.
Over the last few months the Brexit secretary, Brexit foreign secretary and so forth had presumably done some work in preparation for the forthcoming negotiations. Now in view of totally changed circumstances, when a disgruntled section of her party can bring down the government, she will have to tread a consensual path and hard Brexit is out of question. The prepared plan would need to be revised to satisfy the conflicting interests of the party.
So, one would ask, how can a damaged prime minister with hardly any plan or with a damaged plan conduct negotiations with the EU starting in 10 days’ time? These negotiations are extremely complex, extremely important not only to the well-being of the country but also survival of the country. This self-inflicted wound is all due to the delusional xenophobic Tory elements. A damaged prime minister with a damaged xenophobic ideology is all Britain can put forward for the Brexit negotiations now.