In fairness, Theresa May never said what would happen if she lost 13 seats.
But here we are.
The Conservative Party has 317 seats in the House of Commons: even allowing for the 7 Sinn Féin MPs who never take their seats, the Tories are five seats short of a majority.
Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party, have between them got 314 seats.
We have had quite a few people make very bad decisions to get us where we are.
(Title drop: In “Turn Left”, the episode where Donna finds out what would have happened to everyone on Earth if she hadn’t reminded the Doctor not to die in the drowning of a Racnoss nest, the crucial first bad decision is Donna’s mum convincing her not to take the job at H. C. Clements where she met Lance and became the Runaway Bride.)
It would be great to think we could just turn back to the meeting at which Cameron and his coterie agreed they’d offer an EU referendum in their manifesto for the 2015 general election and start campaigning on it early.
That a majority of those who voted, in a majority of constituencies throughout England and Wales, voted to leave the EU, is another of those huge and bewildering mistakes. To read two different takes on why Leave won the argument in England and Wales, Carole Cadwalladr’s article in the Observer “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” is one fascinating read: Dominic Cummings’s article in the Spectator “how the Brexit referendum was won” is another.
The EU started preparing for the UK to leave the EU the same month the results were known. David Allen Green has written in the Financial Times about the EU’s level of preparedness and in his own Jack of Kent blog about Theresa May’s lack of preparation.
Theresa May appointed three men to carry out foreign relations – Boris Johnson, disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, and David Davis – apparently purely on their stance as Brexiteers, without considering whether they were intellectually or politically able to lead the UK through the worst national crisis since WWII.
Timewasting and political posturing isn’t the exclusive province of the Conservative party: the 170+ Labour MPs who’d decided to use the EU referendum as an excuse to oust Jeremy Corbyn, no matter what the result, also made a series of bad decisions, though their impact is harder to quantify.
I have written at length why I think Brexit is a rather bad idea: I don’t need to repeat it.
Theresa May held a snap general election because she fully expected that she would get a hugely-increased majority. Some polls were suggesting a lead for the Tories that could give them a 100-seat-plus majority in the Commons.
I think Theresa May was more concerned with her job security as Prime Minister – if she had won the 2017 General Election, she would have been proof against knives in the back from the 1922 Committee for five years. Given that Brexit will be an economic and political disaster, this would be important for her.
But that’s not why Theresa May said she wanted a general election.
“Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.”
Well, she’s gone to the country to seek our support, and the country has given her our answer: hung Parliament.
What Theresa May should have done, on the morning of Friday 9th June, was resign.
But the Brexit clock is ticking. Negotiations with the European Union are scheduled to begin on 20th June. Theresa May has already surrendered weeks and weeks of negotiation time so that she could have a general election.
If the Conservative Party then hold another leadership election, and then another general election in October to try to get a more decisive result, the negotiations with the EU can’t begin til November 2017, and the UK leaves the EU, with or without a deal, on 29th March 2019.
The Conservative and Unionist Party has always, in tight places, been able to depend on the Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP, to vote with them. Theresa May seems to have thought of them almost immediately as she realised she wouldn’t be able to form a government with only 317 seats. (Of course, had she abandoned Brexit, the LibDems might have agreed to sacrifice themselves to the Tories again: and that would have given her 329 seats and taken away the ticking clock.)
“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.”
327 seats is a majority, indeed: though of course any little accident such as a Tory MP having to resign due to being convicted of electoral fraud, would tend to diminish that majority over time. It is not a majority that Theresa May could hope to sustain in government for five years.
There is a problem with that little majority of May’s, and it is not only that the DUP are a vile party of sectarian, homophobic, creationist, sexist bigots, with close links to terrorism, whose voters will not necessarily care for the DUP having got into bed with the Tories.
In clause 1.v of the Good Friday Agreement, one of the great constitutional documents of the UK’s uncodified constitution, both the UK government and the government of the Republic of Ireland affirmed:
“that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities”
Rigorous impartiality is not something associated with or expected of the DUP with regard to Northern Ireland. But at present, with Stormont suspended, the UK government is the only sovereign government in Northern Ireland, and if Theresa May forms a government with DUP support, the DUP has sovereign powers in Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin do not.
(See also: this twitter thread by Jack Bernhardt.)
(Also: Nicholas Whyte’s blog in the Apco Forum: The Deciding Votes from Ulster.)
Sinn Fein says Tory/DUP alliance is in contravention of terms of Good Friday Agreement.
— Frank Cottrell-Boyce (@frankcottrell_b) June 9, 2017
While the Telegraph and Politics Home have been trying to push Ruth Davidson as the Tory opposition to the DUP alliance (Ruth Davidson said the Telegraph story was bollocks) the real problem is far more serious.
Not only is Theresa May’s plan to rip up human rights laws not likely to be popular with people who remember how British injustice and discrimination were visited on people who happened to be Irish and in the wrong place at the wrong time, Theresa May is now planning a DUP / Tory government in which the DUP have explicitly said they expect to be rewarded for providing the Conservatives with the 10 MPs needed to form a government, at least until natural attrition wears that tiny majority away.
No one in Northern Ireland except DUP loyalists is likely to be happy about this:
Direct rule by a non-partisan British government is one thing; rule by an administration heavily influenced by the DUP is quite another and would seem contrary to the spirit of power-sharing embodied in the Northern Ireland peace process. I should like to ask what provision might be put in place to safeguard the rights and interests of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland should a Conservative-DUP alliance emerge.
If, before the Queen’s Speech for this new Tory/DUP government, Sinn Féin bring a legal action against the UK government for being in violation of the Good Friday Agreement, then the EU cannot accept the UK government’s negotiators until that action has been settled. If the courts rule in Sinn Féin’s favour and affirm that Theresa May cannot have the DUP as partners in government, May is left with 317 MPs and not a single party that would or could ally with her to give her a majority.
And the court case – if Sinn Féin brings it – would itself take time. As would Theresa May’s resistance to the ruling, if she loses.
And the clock is ticking on the Brexit negotiations.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, told POLITICO on Friday:
“We are ready to start negotiations. I hope that the British will be able to form as soon as possible a stable government. I don’t think that things now have become easier but we are ready.”
The EU cannot begin negotiations with an unstable government or one that is legally doubtful. Theresa May could lawfully try to form a government with 317 MPs: but if the Sinn Féin legal action happens and the courts rule against her, the EU cannot negotiate with a Tory/DUP government which has been ruled unlawful: it would put all decisions in doubt.
Theresa May dissolved Parliament and held a general election ostensibly so that the country could give a mandate for the EU negotiations.
During WWII, the UK formed a National Government. The Conservatives held the majority, and Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, but the government from May 1940 til the end of the war in 1945 included ministers from the Labour, Liberal, and Conservative parties.
Brexit is the most serious crisis since WWII. No matter how it is decided, the UK will leave the EU a poorer and weaker country. I disagree with Brexit. But if it is to be regarded as an inevitable happening – and since Article 50 has been invoked, it would require special effort by the UK and special action by the EU Parliament to uninvoke it and let the UK stay – then it would be utter folly to allow Theresa May to screw it up because she wants to keep her job: a job she has proved herself unfit and unqualified for, and a job she has lost by losing the general election of 8th June.
From now until 29th March 2019, MPs of all parties should form a National Government: Brexit to be negotiated by a committee of able representatives of all the main parties: Sinn Féin MPs can’t take their seats in the Commons, but we should have one Sinn Féin MP and one DUP MP on the committee, as well as MPs from the SNP and the LibDems: Brexit will hugely impact Northern Ireland, and it would be right and just to include MPs from both sides.
Won’t happen, of course.
Instead, I think we’ll be having another general election this October. Hopefully, this time, with a Labour majority and no Scottish Tory MPs.
And perhaps the UK’s negotiations with the EU for Brexit on 29th March 2019 might begin before Christmas 2017.