London, United Kingdom. Most Britons are focused right now on next weeks elections, but after the voting is over, a lot of hard decisions begin on the Brexit divorce from the European Union.
When Theresa May called a General Election there was only one question on people’s minds:” how big will her victory be?” Faced with a Labour Party trailing in the polls, assumed to be demoralised thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and perceived to be too left wing for the electorate, calling the election looked like a tactically smart move by May, even if the delay it caused to the Brexit process caused some irritation in EU capitals.
The UK polls have narrowed recently. This may ultimately not prove enough to mean Theresa May ends up with a reduced majority, or even that there is no party with a majority, but perceptions about the state of the parties and the outcome of the election have changed very swiftly.
Everything is suddenly fluid politically in the UK. The renewed pre-eminence of the two major parties whose combined vote share is set to substantially increase for the first time in decades, the decline of UKIP, and despite the Brexit issue the lack of a recovery of the Lib Dems, give this election a very different feel to those that have preceded it.
The two parties themselves feel somehow lacking in substance, with Brexit having shorn the Tories of all the characters from the Cameron era, and Corbyn having purged the Blairite hang overs in the Labour Party.
Theresa May’s own authority is already in question. Despite being Prime Minister for less than a year, her honeymoon period is very definitely over. The controversy over the so-called “Dementia Tax”, a car crash interview with Andrew Neil, and ducking TV debates against other party leaders, paint a picture of May as being both aloof and bendable.
That she seems to trust only a tiny, tight circle of advisers might have worked as Home Secretary but is no way to build a wide base of support for her government. The marginalisation of Chancellor Hammond contributes to this impression, and if May’s own authority is weakened after the election it means the chances of David Davis staying as Brexit Minister increase.
The Conservative campaign, so heavily based on May herself and using online advertising to target swing voters, is up against a determined ground game mounted by the Labour Party replete with new activists recruited thanks to Corbyn’s leadership, it is working to some extent.
Both of these campaign methods largely bypass the mainstream media, making compelling coverage of the election in the media rather hard. That the Conservatives seem to lack ideas about what they would do with power were they to get it compounds this impression. Drawing conclusions about how the post-election period will look after a campaign like this is rather hard.
What does any of this mean for Brexit ?
The rest of the EU thought it was beginning to know what it would get from Theresa May on Brexit. That she at least would be able to deliver on what she said. That the post-election period in the UK would somehow be predictable, and that the real business of Brexit would commence after the 8th of June.
Now looking at the issue it seems none of this is a foregone conclusion. May’s victory is likely to be nowhere near as convincing as everyone assumed just a few short weeks ago.