The decision to call an EU referendum has just destroyed the career of its second Conservative Prime Minister. It may not happen immediately but Theresa May’s authority and credibility are fatally damaged and her time in office will now be measured in months not years. The election that she called to give her an increased majority and mandate for Brexit and a five-year term to do it in has given her none of these things.
Like the EU referendum result itself, this election was a hubristic move that spectacularly backfired for its architect. She made it about ’strong and stable’ leadership going into Brexit and, in doing so, was found to be neither of those things. Despite the best efforts of the two main parties to avoid talking about Brexit in detail, the split, contradictory and unpredictable results of this election showed a nation divided between young and old, urban and rural, rich and poor and fundamentally between Leave and Remain.
What effect those divisions have in the negotiations in Westminster that follow this result could play out in a number of ways, but Brexit remains the biggest issue and may well decide how the next administration governs and it will certainly influence the decisions it takes. The reliance on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and even the new Scottish Conservative MPs could further complicate the picture.
Brexit will also dominate the contest as to who replaces May, when the next election will be called and who and how the negotiations with the EU proceed following the exit decision of March. May called this election in order to make it easier to implement her government’s decision to seek a ‘hard Brexit’, leaving the Customs Union as well as the Single Market. Her authority to proceed with this agenda has just been undermined and her opponents within her own party will be positioning to replace her, all of which makes her task a lot harder and the course a lot more uncertain. Which act this multi-part tragedy for British politics takes next in the wake of the EU Referendum vote is very difficult to predict as a result.