Brexit negotiations under a minority government
Theresa May intends to form a minority government and to work with allies, in particular the ten MPs in Arlene Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to press ahead with the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.
What might this mean for the Brexit negotiations?
Talks will still go ahead
Both Theresa May and the EU have said that the Brexit negotiations will still go ahead.
Talks are due to start in the week of 19 June, but they could be delayed, depending on how long it takes to form a new government. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted an offer to delay the start of the negotiations until the UK is ready. However, there is no guarantee that the 27 remaining EU Member States would then agree unanimously to extend the negotiating period at the other end.
What is the Government’s Brexit mandate?
The election hasn’t made it much clearer what Brexit policies voters support. We only know that there’s no majority support for any party’s manifesto and Brexit plans.
However, David Davis appeared to suggest to Sky News at around 2am on election night that there would be no mandate for leaving the EU Single Market and customs union.
What’s the DUP position?
DUP and Brexit
In the June 2016 referendum Northern Ireland voted by 56% to 44% to remain in the EU, but two thirds of self-described Unionists in Northern Ireland voted to leave, and the DUP supported Brexit. The DUP is a long-time ally of the Conservative Party and its support has already helped the Government to pass the Article 50 bill which allowed Theresa May to trigger the Brexit process.
DUP Chief Whip Jeffrey Donaldson has said the DUP will continue to support the Conservatives on Brexit.
What might the DUP demand for their support?
There are areas of agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP: both want to protect EU and UK citizens’ rights, avoid a hard border with Ireland and end the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice.
But there are also disagreements. The DUP manifesto called for a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, but also a customs union. And Arlene Foster doesn’t want the ‘hard Brexit’ implied by Theresa May’s ruling out of membership of the Single Market. The manifesto referred to “Ease of trade with the Irish Republic and throughout the European Union”, and a “frictionless border with the Irish Republic”.
Will the DUP demand concessions in return for support for the Great Repeal Bill and other Brexit-related bills to be brought before Parliament?
Theresa May is not forming a coalition government with the DUP, so it’s unlikely that there will be DUP ministers at the negotiating table. But DUP influence in UK negotiating positions could be felt if the Government is obliged to put more emphasis on the question of the border with Ireland. This might in turn give rise to a higher profile in the negotiations for all the Devolved Administrations.
Might Parliament be bolder?
A stronger opposition might feel more emboldened to use the tools at its disposal to scrutinise the Brexit negotiations. The Government may also be less likely to win any vote on a withdrawal agreement at the end of the negotiations.
Steering the unprecedented quantity of Brexit-related legislation through the Commons without a majority is likely to be more problematic than in the previous Parliament. Also the House of Lords might consider itself able to vote against Government Bills such as the Great Repeal Bill, if the Salisbury Convention was considered not to apply to a minority Government’s manifesto.
The general election has meant that new Select Committees are unlikely to be up and running until well into the autumn.
Is ‘no deal’ more likely?
A minority Government is likely to find it harder to agree a UK negotiating position, and to have less room to compromise in the negotiations.
This could make it harder to reach agreement – and therefore more likely that the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 without any withdrawal agreement. The increased likelihood of another general election probably adds to that risk, as does the increased possibility of a parliamentary vote against a withdrawal agreement.
Or, paradoxically, a weaker Government could give the UK a stronger negotiating hand. If both sides knew that the UK Parliament was unlikely to accept an unfavourable proposal, the EU might be less likely to suggest it.
Picture credit: brexit by airpix. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)