The former Chancellor and now (freebie) newspaper editor George Osborne, described UK PM Theresa May as a “dead woman walking” – in a political sense, I hasten to add, following last week’s general election which saw her majority destroyed and her returned to the Commons at the head of a hung parliament.
The government is scrambling for a “support and confidence” deal with the 10 MPs of the DUP which would deliver it a working majority of two. The DUP are known to hold views which many in the rest of the UK do not support (they are anti-abortion, against same sex marriages and unsympathetic to the gay and trans-gender community, for a start), but critically, their colleagues are stakeholders in the devolved government for Northern Ireland which was set up as a result of the Good Friday agreement as part of the solution to “the troubles” in the province. The UK government is supposed to be impartial in its dealings with the Northern Ireland assembly; something problematic if it requires the support of the DUP for its own political survival.
The DUP are pro-Brexit (whilst the majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU), but are keen to ensure that no “hard border” returns to the country and that the UK remains within the EU’s customs union. It remains to be seen what price the DUP will extract from the Tory minority government for its support.
Mrs May has emerged from a key party committee meeting with backing to continue as PM – largely because there is no obvious successor and no appetite for fresh elections under her or anybody else. However, her governing style is set to change to become more consensus-based and it looks as if the “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra will be retired.
There is already considerable speculation that the May Brexit plan will be softened with some voices suggesting that the UK seeks to remain in the Single Market. Whilst this would be popular amongst remain supporters, it is a foolish position to adopt. The choice should be between ending Brexit and retaining membership of the EU or following the logic of hard Brexit. Remaining in the Single Market would require acceptance of the four pillars of the EU and retaining both the freedom of movement and the supremacy of the ECJ. However, the UK would surely need to continue to pay membership dues but without any veto on EU laws unpalatable to the UK or any say in the direction of the bloc – in essence the worst of all worlds.