Michael Barnier and David Davis led the preliminary Brexit talks that started this morning and have already given in on one of their main negotiating demands; that the divorce agreement and the relationship post-Brexit should be negotiated simultaneously. Given that the EU is a massive 27 country bloc, it seems only natural that Britain would be in the weaker position, but with the perceived election loss and no formal government formed as of yet, it seems the UK’s hand may be weaker than the Conservatives may have expected.
Whilst this could be seen as a sign of weakness from the negotiating team, for the portion of the public hoping for a soft Brexit, this could be seen as a softened negotiating stance and a positive step towards a more amicable set of negotiations. Both of the lead negotiators seem to have backed down from their “no deal is better than a bad deal” rhetoric that was present throughout the campaign. Davis said he was “encouraged by the constructive approach”, whilst Barnier commented that he believed a “fair deal is possible and far better than no deal”. This also could be a sign of Hammond’s growing influence inside the party, his step back into the limelight on Andrew Marr was steeped with heavy criticism of the “no deal is better than a bad deal” slogan.
Theresa May has made the decision to push ahead with Brexit negotiations, despite the questions over her leadership of the party and the fact that she has failed to pass a Queen’s Speech or come to an official confidence and supply deal with the DUP. Sources have told Sky that the DUP deal is “95% done”, however no formal announcement has been made as of yet. The deal is currently working it’s way through the treasury department, who are looking over extra spending that Northern Ireland would receive as a part of the deal.
However, the Tories are concerned that any increase in funding to Northern Ireland could lead to calls for further spending on all the devolved nations within the UK. Preferential treatment would not play well, and could jeopardise the recent gains made by the Conservatives in Scotland. The DUP deal would only give her a majority of 6 (when accounting for the Sinn Fein MPs who don’t take their seats) so the Conservatives run the risk that some of the 19 Conservative LGBT MPs elected to parliament may have trouble stomaching a DUP deal to stay in power, given the DUP record on LGBT rights. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have been openly planning to table a substantial amendment to the Queen’s speech with all the key points of the Labour manifesto in an attempt to challenge the Conservatives and will no doubt be hoping to try and convince some of the more centrist and liberal backbenchers to abandon Theresa May.
On top of this, the decision to cancel the 2018 Queen’s speech has been met with some harsh criticism with The Mirror, amongst others, suggested it was just an attempt to cling to power as long as possible. But Theresa May is not the first Prime Minister to call for a two year term of government, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition did the same thing in 2010/11 to give the newly formed coalition a chance to put through their extended legislative agenda, give the country a period of stability, and to reschedule parliamentary sessions to run spring-spring instead of autumn to autumn. Theresa May’s decision would be wise if she had just secured the strong mandate she campaigned for, but her precarious leadership position, the fact the Conservative manifesto has likely been stripped through concessions to the DUP, and the doubt surrounding the Queen’s Speech vote, leave her looking like she is clinging to power, not providing stability.
Her public profile has also suffered significantly in the wake of the election; thousands turned out to condemn her DUP deal and call for her resignation over the weekend, whilst a Times/YouGov poll from Saturday showed that only 8 per cent of the public have a “favourable” view of the DUP (48 per cent have an unfavourable one) and that only 27 per cent support a deal (48 per cent oppose one). May even faced criticism from former Prime Minister, John Major, who warned that any agreement with the DUP could put the “fragile” peace that has been achieved in Northern Ireland at risk. It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Alistair Campbell and by Gerry Adams, who both voiced concerns that any deal would be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement – though the new Irish Prime Minister did refute the claim.
With all of this chaos and now the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Conservatives could be jumping the gun by launching into Brexit talks with no official government having been formed. The EU are unlikely to be impressed if negotiations are interrupted by a failed Queen’s Speech or another election, so the Conservatives are either confident of the votes or are ploughing ahead in the hope that they can hold on. That all said, the DUP’s consent to a (delayed) date for the Queen’s Speech does suggest that they are likely to back the PM and there have been reports that the Conservatives are quietly confident that they have the votes. Theresa May has also declared publicly that the vote will go ahead, regardless of whether an official agreement is reached, so we can assume that she is confident that they will secure support in time. The level of uncertainty surrounding the UK government and their ability to govern is not a good base from which to launch into negotiations, although delaying the talks until after the vote would not have been met with enthusiasm from the EU leaders either. Theresa May has gambled by pushing ahead before her government is secure, but we will have to wait until next week’s vote to see whether it pays off.