Uncertainty in Britain

Hung verdict complicates Brexit talk prospects as well as UK’s ties with the rest of the world

“A week is a long time in politics,” as one-time British prime minister Harold Wilson famously declared. This brutal truth was driven home to Britain’s current prime minister Theresa May after her Conservative Party lost its overall majority in the snap general elections she called a whole three years early, with the specific aim of bolstering her majority and giving her a stronger mandate in the all-important Brexit talks with the EU. The Conservatives, who started out with a seemingly unassailable 20 points ahead in the polls, now must form a coalition government with Northern Ireland’s tiny Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Already, the wolves are baying for May’s blood and her survival looks doubtful, though she firmly insists she’s not moving from 10 Downing Street.

Now what shape the Brexit negotiations will take is anyone’s guess. May (who said the EU would find her ‘a bloody difficult woman’) or any other future prime minister will find it tough to steer a path forward. The task will be made harder because the Conservatives are bitterly split between the extreme right demanding a ‘hard’ Brexit or total break with the EU and others who want a ‘soft’ Brexit with links preserved. A third faction still hopes Brexit, with all its economic disruptions, could be jettisoned altogether. EU leaders were also dismayed by the hung result as they fear the complex negotiations will get even tougher with a weak British PM.

The fact is, the Brexit negotiations have implications far beyond UK borders. Britain is the first choice for most Indian firms wanting a beachhead from which to launch an assault on the European market. That’s not just because of the English language but also because London offers a powerhouse of financial and allied services. If Britain has an untidy break from the EU, companies may be forced to relocate to mainland Europe, and in fact some are already doing so. Besides, the Conservative manifesto reflected May’s hardline immigration stance that may involve higher entry fees for Indian skilled workers and students. Her first foreign trip as prime minister was to India, but she displayed naive arrogance by announcing fresh curbs on Indian students just before coming here to cultivate more bilateral trade. Between May, who has always taken a blinkered view of the world and the professorial Jeremy Corbyn, British voters had relatively uninspiring choices. The resulting hung Parliament has introduced a new level of uncertainty in Britain and the rest of the world.

Published on June 09, 2017
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