The hung Parliament result in the June 8th general election has, paradoxically, increased chances of both a so-called soft Brexit, with the UK remaining close to the EU, and a chaotic Brexit, with no deal on the UK’s departure from the EU under article 50.
This is the view of Professor Anand Menon, a political expert at King’s College London, in a new report on the EU referendum one year on, produced by the research organisation, The UK in a Changing Europe. “There will be pressure on the prime minister now, following the election result, to obtain a softer Brexit than she originally planned. But at the same time, the sheer instability of a hung Parliament means that a chaotic Brexit is still perfectly possible,” Menon said. He added that Theresa May, if she is still in place as prime minister, may calculate that it is in her interests to manufacture a breakdown in the Brexit negotiations, because if Parliament refuses to approve the article 50 agreement she negotiates, she would be forced to step down. Menon added that chances of May being able to achieve her stated objective of agreement on article 50 and a trade deal with the EU, within the two-year timeframe under article 50, are 5% or less. Commenting on the Brexit outlook one year after the referendum, Menon said very little is known about what Brexit will look like from the UK government’s perspective. “The culture of secrecy and paranoia surrounding the people working on Brexit in the civil service is startling. Now, after a year of backroom work, the civil servants are going to meet with reality, as the negotiations with the EU commence.”
Overall, Menon, along with other academics who produced the report, said that Brexit will be far more complicated than anyone envisaged, with implications for the UK’s devolved constitutional arrangements with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, environmental legislation, the economy and a number of other areas. Professor John Curtice, an expert on polling, said that the UK public is still split on the merits of Brexit or otherwise, with immigration a key issue for leave voters. As a result, the government cannot give ground on immigration in the negotiations, which looks like ruling out any chance of remaining in the single market. Agreeing the rights of EU nationals in the UK could be another fraught subject, according to the report’s authors, as the UK has no record of who is here from the EU and EU citizens living in the UK could have more rights than UK citizens do, if they are subject to EU not UK law.