by Roman King | UK
As the shockwave of the British election results subside, politicians and citizens alike across the United Kingdom are facing the daunting task of removing themselves from the European Union.
The idea of Brexit seems quite simple on the surface; if you listened to Brexiters while the referendum took place, you would have thought there wasn’t a process to begin with. Nigel Farage and the company of the UK Independence Party made no effort to convey the difficulty suggested by separating the United Kingdom from a forty year relationship with the European Union in only two short years. Either the Leave camps were too focused on virtue signalling and selling hopes and dreams to frustrated farmers and rural citizens to inform them of all sides of the argument, or they intentionally withheld said information for political and personal gain. Regardless, the Leave campaigners did participate in an act of intellectual dishonesty with the British people, and intentional or not, the consequences are now more clear than ever.
Theresa May, current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has said multiple times that she supports the British electorate in their decision to leave the European Union and invoke Article 50, which would allow them to initiate the departure process. While some members of the Conservative Party have been vocal in their opposition to a Brexit, the majority of the Tories have formed a general consensus that the voice of the people is to be honoured. With a general election scheduled in three years, the Conservative Party could most likely have entered Brexit negotiations with the power they already had in Parliament; the majority the Tories held was indeed small, but absolute nonetheless.
The recent snap election, however, has left the plan of a Tory-dominated Brexit in shambles. The Conservative Party lost their absolute majority in Parliament, and is now hanging on to the alliance of the hardline right wing Ulster-based Democratic Unionist Party to keep some semblance of power. This changes the dynamic of Brexit negotiations.
In layman’s terms, there are two paths the United Kingdom can take while exiting the European Union: a hard and a soft Brexit. A hard Brexit, the path preferred by most right-wing populists in the U.K., entails a complete annihilation of every connection to the European Union. The U.K. would leave the single market, exit all treaties and trade deals related to the EU, and gain the ability to adopt their own border policies, without having to worry about anybody breathing down their backs. Of course, this doesn’t come without downsides; if the U.K. enters the negotiation room with a hard Brexit in mind, an already miffed European Union will have all the more reason to give the U.K. a hard time in negotiations. Seeing as the EU has to dissuade as many countries as possible from embarking on a path similar to the one chosen by the Britons, if the U.K. comes to the table expecting a hard Brexit, it would not be surprising if they left disappointed. Regardless of the speculation surrounding a hard Brexit, the recent elections make a soft Brexit much more likely — the DUP’s demands to keep an open border with the Republic of Ireland will not go unheard in the newly formed government, and will most likely result in the United Kingdom entering negotiations with a soft Brexit in mind, meaning that they would stay in the single market and keep borders relatively open while still retaining the ability to abandon EU manufacturing regulations. With the current U.K. government, this course of action is almost guaranteed to result in a soft Brexit, much to the chagrin of the UKIP and hardline Tories.
With the beginning of negotiations just a week away, May’s government certainly will have a lot to take into consideration before making demands to the EU.