Six weeks ago, when this title for a British Chamber of Commerce event was conceived, it was perhaps a subtle reference to the navigation and negotiation that lay ahead for the almost certainly, newly returned Conservative Government, as they led the UK’s exit from Europe.
Never did anyone consider that it would turn out to be such a fortuitous description of the aftermath of the election result itself, and present itself as a fitting new slogan to replace “strong and stable”.
It is of course now clear that the UK General Election has ended in a hung parliament and today at the British Chamber of Commerce, a panel of distinguished guests shared their vision and thoughts for the future of UK Government. Whilst opinions differ and debate will undoubtedly continue to rage, the political constitution of the UK stands strong and today H.E. Scott Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore) talked us through the processes that must now be adhered to and what possible scenarios the UK populace could be facing.
As leader of the party with the most seats, Theresa May will stay in government and be given the first opportunity to try and form a viable government. This this can take two forms:
Firstly, she may try and form a coalition Government in which ministerial jobs are shared and the parties pledge to push through their agenda as a combined force. It is generally accepted that this is an unlikely outcome.
Alternatively, she could opt to lead a minority government, a more informal arrangement, securing assurances from the other smaller parties to support the main Conservative issues but offering no ministerial seats in return.
Whilst it is safe to assume therefore that Theresa May is right now holding frantic talks with political colleagues, it serves well to note that even though she has the first shot at forming a workable Government, Jeremy Corbyn is entitled to be negotiating just as hard, ready to step in with a feasible alternative should Theresa May not be able to garner the support of the House of Commons. During these uncertain days, the UK Civil Service is authorised to provide support and guidance to all political parties.
How long can the UK expect this uncertainty to last?
The first important date in Theresa May’s calendar is 13th June when the new parliament meets for the first time. If by this date, Theresa May has not been able to form a strong coalition government or cannot command a majority in the House of Confidence from other parties, she must resign.
Whilst the 13th June is a significant date in these very early days (noted by Boris Johnson), by far the most crucial date is 19th June when the Queens Speech will take place and the UK sovereign reads out the legislation proposed by the new government. If Theresa May is confident of MPs support to back her legislation, it is unlikely that she will step down before then.
Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the second biggest party, would then be given the opportunity to govern. It is expected he would most likely try to govern as a minority government, i.e. without forming a coalition, but he would hope to secure the support of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the Greens to push through his vision for the big issues such as Brexit, the Economy and the National Health Service.
However, it is generally believed that the UK electorate would find it very difficult to accept government from a party that came second, and this leads to a very possible third scenario; the possibility of another election, and there are several reasons for this:
Firstly if a minority government is formed, whoever is the Prime Minister usually holds another election at the earliest opportunity to try and gain a working majority. Alternatively, the opposition would force another election by tabling a “confidence” motion. This is sure to be the case if the UK electorate find themselves being governed by the party that came second. This has never happened in the United Kingdom and would certainly mean unchartered waters for the constitution.
The process for another election is regulated by The Fixed-Term Parliament Act of 2011, passed by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to make their 2010 coalition less vulnerable. This Act stipulates that an election can only take place if:
Two thirds of MPs vote for it, so in practice this would mean Labour and Conservative coming together in support of it
Or, MPs pass a motion of no confidence in the existing government and then the party who takes over has 14 days to win a confidence vote. This scenario could also see the existing Prime Minister handing over leadership to another party member who then has the requisite 14 days to win a confidence vote.
Parliament would then be dissolved and there would be 25 days until an election is held.
All of the above processes represent the possible scenarios that we can expect to see unfold over the next few days and events in politics over recent months have made it very clear that we would be wise to prepare for the unexpected. Whilst the UK will undoubtedly be “Striving for Certainty in Uncertain Times” the British High Commissioner instilled a vote of confidence in the bedrock of it’s constitution to guide the country through the rocky days ahead.