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Mainstream, VOL LV No 29 New Delhi July 8, 2017

UK Parliamentary Poll Results After Brexit - As the Dust Settles, what are the Important Takeaways?

Tuesday 11 July 2017

by Sanjal Shastri

It has now been more than a week since the UK parliamentary election results were announced. Just like the Brexit vote, which had baffled pollsters, the recently concluded elections were equally puzzling. Political pundits had predicted a landslide in favour of Teresa May. However, the elections resulted in a hung parliament.

Apart from the most obvious impact on Mrs May’s political future, the elections have certain important takeaways. From the demographic factors, to Brexit and the future of a unified UK, this article tries to point out the major implications of the election results.

During the Brexit referendum, it was observed that younger voters backed a continued partnership with the EU. This time around, there are some important observations to be made about the demographic divide. According to a report published by YouGov, the 2017 elections saw youngsters turning out in much larger numbers. A large majority of the younger voters backed Labour. This fact reinforces the observation made during the Brexit referendum: younger voters want to continue with the EU. Though Labour may not be able to form the government, whoever is leading the Brexit negotiations will have to keep in mind the youth sentiment. Ultimately this might prove to be a factor in a watered-down Brexit agreement.

Teresa May was hoping that a larger majority would give her a stronger position when nego-tiating the terms of the exit. The election results come as a big blow for her plans. She was in a better position before going into the elections than she is today. On one hand this adds to the uncertainty surrounding an already turbulent period for the UK and EU. On the other hand, it ties the hands of the leadership that is going to represent the UK in the negotiations. Given the fractured verdict, final approval for any negotiated deal hinges on parliamentary approval. This would require a bipartisan consensus. For the more conservative Brexit supporters, this would mean settling for a more mild exit deal, which can get bipartisan support.

Rewind the clock back by a year, one of the concerns expressed in June 2016 was the growing racial attacks following the referendum results. The rise in hate crimes targeted against non-Whites and Eastern Europeans (in particular Poles) was a matter of great concern. These election results are a mixed bag for those concerned about growing hate crimes. The results prove that the younger generation is in favour of a more inclusive UK. However, the dynamics of the hung parliament means Mrs May will be forced to form an alliance with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The party is known for its hard line stance against abortion and same sex marriage. At the same time it claims to promote the idea of ‘Britishness’.

Finally there is the burning question of Scotland. The Scots narrowly voted in favour of remaining in the UK in 2014. Continued membership of the EU was one of the tipping points that pushed the Scots to remain in the UK. The Brexit referendum came as a shock to Scotland as the region had voted in favour of remaining in the EU. Following the results, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that if Scotland is forced to pull out of the EU, a new referendum on Scottish independence would have to be called for. Analysts had stated that Scotland’s separation would be a real possibility. However, the 2017 elections came as a major blow for the SNP. They lost a total of 19 seats. This might come as a relief for leaders in London. Having lost seats, the SNP is in a weaker position to call for a new referendum on Scottish independence.

As the dust settles, the 2017 parliamentary elections have thrown up some important facts. Firstly, the elections saw a surge in the number of young voters backing Labour. This reinforced the observation made during the Brexit referendum regarding the demographic divide in the UK electorate. Secondly, the vote weakens the UK’s position in the Brexit negotiations. Considering the hung parliament, the negotiated agreement will have to get bipartisan support. A watered-down and mild exit deal will be the most likely outcome. Thirdly, it is a mixed bag for those concerned about growing conservatism and hate crimes. While the increase in support for Labour is a positive sign, a likely alliance between the Tories and DUP will be a matter for concern. Finally, those in support of a unified UK can breathe a sigh of relief. With the SNP dropping as many as 19 seats, they will find it much harder to push for a new referendum on Scotland’s independence.

The author is a researcher based in Bangalore. He regularly writes on issues in international politics. He can be contacted at sshastri93[at]gmail.com.

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