Christopher Howarth is a senior researcher working in the House of Commons. Prior to this he worked for Open Europe, as a Conservative Foreign Affairs Adviser and senior researcher to a Shadow Europe Minister.
The election result was many things: surprising, in part disappointing – and largely unpredicted. However, it was not a disaster. Jeremy Corbyn and his uglies remain in opposition, and he will now have to undertake the impossible task of reconciling his macabre miscellany of Marxists and Blairites in the only way they understands – a bitter internal fight to the death.
There is one more certainty. The election was not a rerun of the EU referendum. Labour, the Conservatives (including the Scottish Conservatives) and the DUP are all committed to Brexit, and explicitly all stood on manifestos promising to leave the EU’s internal market and customs union. Add in the minor parties, and over 85 per cent of the electorate voted to leave the EU. Given that the majority of MPs elected in 2015 were elected on the basis of remaining in the EU, this is a fresh and serious new mandate for the Prime Minister – and one that will strengthen her hand in the EU negotiations that are about to start.
In one of the most positive developments of the election, May has also gained a serious mandate in Scotland to deliver Brexit. Not only has she won 13 Scottish Conservative MPs, but the mandate for pro-Brexit parties in Scotland is now over 55 per cent. We were told before the referendum, by some who should have known better, that Brexit would endanger the Union. Far from it – May could now go down in history as the Prime Minister who put separatism to bed and saved the Union. 63 per cent of Scots voted for unionist parties.
The Prime Minister’s mandate is further strengthened by the willingness of Northern Ireland’s largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party, to back her Government creating a new CoalitionUK to counter Corbyn’s grisly alternative alliance of parties, including the SNP, who wish to destroy the UK – chaos is to polite a word to describe what they aim to achieve.
The DUP backed the Vote Leave campaign, are committed to Brexit and are committed to leaving the customs union and internal market. Small-c conservative, pro-Brexit, pro-Unionist, pro-British: they are a lightning rod designed to attract the venom of every cybernista – all willing to turn a blind line to their own hero’s adulation of the IRA, the same organisation that bombed the DUP leader’s childhood school bus. The DUP is a mainstream democratic party, all MPs have a right to participate in the formation of the UK government, and their new influence and a Northern Irish voice in the heart of Government is a positive development for the May’s new administration.
The Prime Minister has a renewed and powerful mandate, but it would be wrong to claim it is all plain sailing. The EU talks will start forthwith. She will need the support of all her wider team to deliver a deal for the UK as a whole. It is probably naive to expect that those Labour MPs elected in Leave constituencies on the basis of their commitment to Brexit will give the Prime Minister their full support, but they should be mindful that other EU states will watch for any signs of weakness in the UK body politic as the negotiations unfold. This interest will no doubt be shared by their constituents.
However, it seems unlikely that the Labour leadership will put up any organised opposition – or even float alternative plans. While it may be tempting for Corbyn to critique the Conservative negotiations, his main interests appear to include nationalising industries and spending more (borrowed) money. These policies are contrary to the EU’s Internal Market state aid and competition rules – leaving any alternative Labour plan to be shot down here and in the EU as unworkable. There are other opponents that are more determined. For some residual remainers, George Osborne and parts of the London-based media, the best hope to prevent Brexit is to weaken the negotiating team, and endlessly drip, drip and drip alarmist half-truths in order to encourage the EU27 to believe that the UK will chose to stay in the Internal Market, pray for deadlock and delay. They will be dismayed.
Before the election, we were told by some that a large Conservative majority would lead to a watering-down of Brexit. After the result was announced we are now told by the very same people that a small majority will lead to a watering-down of Brexit. The truth is that, for some diehard remainers, no Conservative majority was too large or too small to hope for such a watering down. What they have failed to understand is that the electorate have decided; has voted overwhelmingly for parties that want to get on with it and make a success of Bexit, unlock the UK’s potential – and move on. For now some of these voters have voted Labour and some Conservative, but they expect the same thing. The one reactionary party committed to restoring the old EU order – the Liberal Democrats last Thursday was one to forget.
The clock is ticking, the Government will have its work cut out to develop new UK policies for migration, agriculture, fishing and international trade and negotiate a route out of the EU and into a new friendly relationship. This is a historic task, but the Prime Minister now has a historic cross-party mandate drawn from all parts of the UK in order to help deliver it. We should ignore those who wish to obstruct her in this work – and let her and her team get on and finish the task.