I thought I'd share a Q&A I have pulled together on what happens next after today's election result and what this may mean for Brexit:
What’s the process for forming a new government?
The Queen has given Theresa May permission to try and form a Government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP). The support of the DUP’s 10 MPs would give the Conservatives a parliamentary majority. The DUP have confirmed they have agreed to talk with the Conservatives to see if they can agree a deal; these will probably take place over the weekend. At present (Friday 9 June), no deal with the DUP has been agreed. Any agreement is likely to be on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis. This is not a formal coalition but rather an agreement to support the government on crucial parliamentary votes such as the Queen Speech or Budget, often in exchange for policy or other concessions.
How does the election result affect government business in Parliament?
Without a government majority, Parliament becomes more important and more powerful. Minsters have to devote more time to parliamentary business, to ensure votes are carried; compromises on legislation are more likely as the opposition and backbenchers have more success in agreeing amendments; and more controversial legislation stands less chance of being agreed. This also affects other government business, as Ministers can get tired by parliamentary pressures and have less time to devote to other matters (eg Brexit negotiations!).
How else could this affect Brexit?
We will have to wait and see. In terms of the government’s approach, there are two schools of thought. One is that the Prime Minister will be under greater pressure from what one former Conservative ministerial adviser described last night as ‘the head bangers’; those backbenchers who are happy to leave the EU without agreeing a deal and would prefer a short, sharp exit.
The other view is that a deal with the DUP may bring with it some agreements that provide for a ‘softer Brexit’. Whilst the DUP were the only party in Northern Ireland to campaign for Brexit, they have advocated a “positive relationship” with the EU and it is worth bearing in mind that many of their core supporters are small business owners. The DUP manifesto identified Brexit priorities as including some element of free movement of people and an open land border with the republic of Ireland. The pro-devolution approach of the DUP and their involvement in Brexit negotiations may also force the government to work more closely with other devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales on Brexit preparations. Furthermore, the government will be mindful that to ensure they can definitely get the final Brexit deal approved by Parliament in 2 years’ time they may want a deal that a wider group of MPs can support.
The election result will also affect the timing of Brexit negotiations. The negotiations are scheduled to kick off on 19 June. The EU has indicated they are prepared to delay these to enable the UK to get its ducks in a row. This does squeeze the time available for negotiations – as would any further delay were there to be a Conservative leadership challenge.
The other impact on Brexit is that the EU heads of state and negotiators will see the UK in a weaker negotiating position. The Government will not have a strong electoral mandate to bring to the negotiating table, unless it seeks to a more collaborative relationship with the Labour party and other major UK political parties on Brexit negotiations.
How will this affect the Conservatives' legislative programme?
One of the things the Conservatives and DUP would need to agree on will be what legislation they can support, for inclusion in the Queen’s speech (scheduled for 19 June). Comparing manifestos there are a couple of areas of common ground, which may provide the basis for a legislative programme:
- action on reducing energy bills
- Grammar schools
- Security and anti-terror legislation
- Great Repeal Bill (providing basis for legislative enactment of Brexit, with carry-over of EU legislation into UK law).
Based on a comparison of both parties’ manifestos and election statements, there are also Conservative manifesto policies which the DUP may block:
- The proposed switch after 2020 from a pensions triple lock to a new Double Lock
- Conservative plans to means test the winter fuel allowance
- Using the value of a person's home to contribute to health and social care.
How will a DUP agreement affect the next Budget?
Both party manifestos show they are committed to raising the minimum wage.
The DUP also supports proposals to further increase the personal tax allowance as does the Conservatives, who said by 2020 they increase the allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 .
The DUP is likely to insist on a big injection of public spending into the Northern Ireland economy as part of the price of its support for May. As a result of the ‘Barnett formula’ which sets the amount of subsidy paid to the devolved regions each year, Scotland and Wales could benefit automatically from additional funding too.
The DUP also supports Heathrow expansion, linked to additional investment in infrastructure connectivity to Northern Ireland.