To the shock of many, and in stark contrast to the opinion polls published in the lead up to the UK parliamentary general elections of 7th May, the Conservative party has secured a majority for the next five years, thus confirming David Cameron’s return as Prime Minister.
The political landscape has changed dramatically: in comparison with 2010, the Scottish National Party has gained an unprecedented 50 seats, while Labour has lost 26 and the Liberal Democrats have lost 49. The Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders have resigned and many key cabinet members have lost their positions.
This definite vote of confidence in the Conservatives is an important victory for the party. Nevertheless, the party has only a slim majority meaning Cameron will need to ensure party members’ compliance with votes on all key issues if he wants to function effectively for the five-year term.
It remains to be seen how these results will effect the UK’s position in Europe.
EU membership has been an important issue in all of the main parties’ electoral campaigns. Conservative pledges on the EU have included holding an “in-out” referendum on Britain’s renegotiated EU membership by 2017, protecting the UK economy from further integration of the Eurozone and scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights.
While Cameron has made it clear that he is not in favour of a Brexit, he has repeatedly emphasised his belief in the need to reform Britain’s membership terms. His promise of a referendum effectively sets a deadline for this reform to happen. While his European counterparts have thus far been reluctant to engage in any such negotiations, it is difficult to see how this could now be avoided.
It is as yet unclear which matters Cameron will choose to focus on in any upcoming EU negotiations. Indeed, in light of the increasingly Eurosceptic UK context, some have suggested that the mere act of achieving certain concessions from the EU, regardless of whether they are considered to be key issues, could be the most important element in convincing the electorate to vote in favour of continued EU membership. This could prove to be a strength in any upcoming negotiations: if Cameron can afford to be flexible vis-à-vis the other Member States, he may find them more willing to enter into discussions in the first place.
European Commission President Juncker has now issued a congratulatory statement acknowledging Cameron’s “resounding victory” and stating that he is ready to work with him in order to “strike a fair deal for the United Kingdom in the EU.” It will be interesting to see whether the EU and the UK will see eye to eye as to what might constitute a fair deal for all parties.