Britain has been plunged into political chaos after a shock result in Thursday’s general election that saw the ruling Conservative Party’s majority wiped out.
Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap poll hoping to boost her mandate for talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union, due to start next week. But the Brexit timetable has been thrown into jeopardy as the opposition Labor Party saw its vote share soar.
May on Friday resisted calls to quit — calls that came even from senior figures in her party.
After visiting Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, a part of electoral procedure, May announced she would try to form a minority government supported by the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, from Northern Ireland.
“Our two parties have enjoyed a strong relationship over many years, and this gives me the confidence to believe that we will be able to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom,” May said.
Solid majority seen vital
The prime minister maintained that the Brexit talks would begin as planned next week, but with her party’s loss of 13 seats and its parliamentary majority, May will rely on the support of the DUP vote by vote. That is simply unsustainable, said political analyst Ian Dunt, author of the book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?
Minority governments in Britain “have very bad track records — they always get torn apart. The system doesn’t like it. When you’re doing that going into Brexit negotiations — some of the most brutal, arduous negotiations this country has ever faced — you don’t have a chance going up against it without really a strong majority.”
So is Britain’s EU exit now in doubt? No, Dunt said, but May’s vision of a so-called “hard Brexit” — in which the U.K. would most likely leave the single European Union market, take full control over its borders, strike new trade deals and apply laws within its own borders — has been rejected.
“She said, ‘Give me a mandate.’ And the answer was, ‘No.’ And that means we have to rethink everything, the entirety of the way we’re doing Brexit,” Dunt said.
The Conservatives’ losses were largely gains for the Labor opposition, which defied polls and predictions to gain 29 seats — a vindication for leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose grip on the party appears to have strengthened.
“We put forward our policies — strong and hopeful policies — and they’ve gained an amazing response and traction,” he said.
Youth vote energized
Among those was scrapping university tuition fees, which energized the youth vote. As one teaching student at the University of London told VOA, “I think most of us here were against Brexit last year. And I don’t feel like the current prime minister or, indeed, the Tory party, has any idea about what to do with Brexit at the moment.”
Elation in the Corbyn camp is tempered by electoral reality, said Dunt, making a comparison to last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.
“In a sort of Bernie Sanders way, he just created this sort of idealistic momentum around young people,” Dunt said. “He’s done something extraordinary. But he still doesn’t have that many seats.”
A year after the Brexit vote, Britain appears as divided as ever — between young and old, left and right, pro- and anti-Europe.
May’s campaign catchphrase of a “strong and stable government” has backfired. Britain looks set for months of political chaos.