YEM UK Statement on the General Election 2017

Yet again British politics has proven itself able to surprise as for the second consecutive time, a gambit taken by the UK Conservative Party has failed to bear fruit, meaning it will likely have to conclude some kind of an agreement with the DUP in Northern Ireland.

There may even be another election soon in the UK’s future, which would certainly render the Brexit negotiations even more complicated than what they already are. There are both challenges and opportunities which result from all of this disruption but as ever, YEM’s main focus is on Europe and its mission remains largely unchanged.

This campaign was branded initially as ‘the Brexit election’, but in many ways it has taught those of us pushing for or against Europe how unwise a focus this is. Just as in the days before the referendum, people simply do not care that much about the European Union – we would argue because they have little understanding of it, and they do not have tangible reminders of its benefits (or even its costs) in their day-to-day existence.

It also seems to reinforce the view in society that most people now have come to accept Brexit as a reality, but that they would like to see the dirty business concluded in as amicable and orderly a fashion as possible. With this in mind, the failure of the Conservative election campaign makes more sense as people did not support the idea of a ‘fight’ with Europe. At the same time, it also meant that the Greens, Lib Dems, and SNP, who all campaigned hard on a pro-EU platform, were likewise not rewarded electorally speaking. Labour, on the other hand, which for several reasons kept relatively quiet on Brexit and focused more on economic and social issues, seems to have had a better understanding of the UK electorate on this occasion than first thought.

In terms of our work campaigning for the EU, the ‘moderated’ stance the British public seems to have taken gives fresh hope to us that in fact it is possible for pro-Europeans to work across all parties to achieve their ends. It also means that more than ever we need to focus on educating people about the European project, and trying to develop ways of rooting into people’s lives – of helping people see the connection between membership of the European Union and the opportunities and benefits derived from this for their social and economic well-being. However, the election result also suggests that fostering integration of Britain with Europe is not going to be easy, and will certainly be a protracted cause.

The election has added to the complexity of the Brexit negotiations, as the weak government is liable to collapse at any time, potentially during the most crucial moments of the negotiations. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking towards the March 2019 deadline for an agreement, for which reason a new election would devour invaluable negotiating time. The incoming government’s reliance on the House of Commons, including its pro-European elements, may open up potential avenues for a constructive Brexit deal that secures the rights of British and EU citizens and Britain’s precious trade connections to Europe. Conversely, we recognise that the government may be driven towards a brutal “hard Brexit” due to its dependence on hardcore Brexiteers sitting in the chamber.

It is not at all surprising, then, that YEM’s raison d’être and its plans for the future remain very much the same. We have to develop our Movement so it is even more broad, diverse, and enduring so we can make the case in not just the months ahead until Article 50 lapses, but in the years following that too.

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