A Hung Parliament: now what?

by George Hatjoullis

Two years ago, ahead of the 2015 general election as a hung parliament was predicted I wrote a speculative blog entitled A Grand Coalition. Most is still valid today. It appears we have arrived at a hung parliament. The difference is that we have since had a referendum on EU exit and parliament has ratified the outcome and both the Labour and Conservative Party are committed to some sort of exit from the EU. It is unlikely that one or the other alone will be able to form a government that has  mandate, or the stability, to negotiate a drawn out Brexit process. Could a Grand coalition work, at least on the issue of Brexit?

If no coalition is agreed then it is likely that the UK will fall out of the EU after two years with no agreement. A hard Brexit. A grand coalition to negotiate Brexit would allow a mixed team to hammer something a little less painful. On one important principle, restricting free movement, the two parties appear to be in agreement. Indeed it seems very likely that the hung parliament result came about because Labour included this principle in their manifesto. It did mean the Liberal Democrats were unable to come to an arrangement but it won Labour many old voters ( past voters and aged voters) that had defected to UKip. This paid off electorally.

The problem is the EU. Any restriction on free movement is likely to be met by the EU with disdain. There may be some kind of free trade deal possible but the experience of other non-EU countries is that restriction on free movement is met with obstacles by the EU. Given how many EU citizens already live in the UK and in other EU countries this is likely to be a serious issue for the EU again. The result may be a near hard Brexit in any event, even with a coalition. So very little has changed.

One of the odd aspects of this election is that young people voted for Labour despite its manifesto commitment to leave the EU and restrict free movement. It is unclear why they did not vote for the LibDems. The latter offered a much cleaner pro-EU position and a chance to reject any exit. My suspicion is that it reflects muddled thinking and that they do not understand that once you ask for restricted movement you risk hard Brexit. Clarity of thought was lost in the anger and contempt at the arrogance of the Theresa May government (which I can understand) and in the euphoria in voting for a party for the many and not just the few (a brilliant slogan). The problem is, what now?

If either the Tories or Labour try to negotiate Brexit alone there is a high probability of a hard Brexit. If Labour try a coalition with the Tories, albeit restricted solely to the Brexit issue, it will fail leading to a hard Brexit. Even if the two parties can somehow cooperate (could be as entertaining as Fargo), how will the idealistic youth react to a coalition with the party of the few? The election was the easy bit Jeremy. Now shit gets real.

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