London – British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in June that she hoped would significantly increase her parliamentary majority, asking voters to back her “strong and stable” leadership through the process of Brexit.
In a shock result, May lost her parliamentary majority and has since come under pressure to resign from opposition leaders – and some in her own Conservative party.
When she triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March, officially beginning two years of negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union after more than 40 years, one of the first people she phoned was Angela Merkel.
The German chancellor has her own election campaign to worry about, with national elections set for September 24. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are currently leading in the polls.
A weakened May is even more likely to welcome the continuity of another term in office for Merkel, according to Simon Usherwood, a Brexit-focussed political analyst at the University of Surrey.
Usherwood gives dpa his thoughts on the view from Britain:
dpa: Why should Britain and the British government be interested in this German election?
Usherwood: I think it matters because Germany still matters very greatly in the EU and that’s going to be the key focus of the UK’s policy-making for the next period of time.
So they need to be invested in this and whatever outcome it has, it’s going to have material impacts for them.
dpa: What are the possible impacts of the election on the Brexit negotiations?
Usherwood: I think the main one is really just the general direction of Brexit as it carries along. The German government at the moment has been relatively constructive in its attitude towards the Article 50 process, so it wants there to be a deal, it would like to have close relationships with the UK.
You have to assume that that remains the kind of priority in any Angela Merkel-led government.
If we end up with something that isn’t a CDU-led government or a ‘grand coalition’ [with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD)], then there might be some change in policy.
Merkel Policy continues?
I think the SPD has been generally a bit more cautious, or a bit more willing to use Brexit as a way of advancing other agendas, and I think that potentially might leave some scope for more difficult conversations.
It’s a problem that we see across the EU, which is that Brexit is a UK issue but it’s also a domestic issue for all the other member states – that they have domestic politics that they need to deal with, and then that has impacts on what policies the national governments choose to take.
At the moment you have to imagine that the CDU are going to again dominate any coalition negotiations, but we also know that elections in recent years have had a habit of not turning out as we thought they would according to the opinion polls.
dpa: Do you think Theresa May basically wants continuity? Is that the best thing for her, that Merkel continues?Policy
Usherwood: Yes, I think the UK has enough on its plate without having to make adjustments to deal with a new German government. It’s hard because … German policy tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and given that a coalition negotiation is going to take some months to put together, it becomes unlikely that we’re going to see rapid shifts in policy in any case.
A hard way to go
For Theresa May, I think she has a relatively sympathetic hearing at the moment in Germany. It’s hard to see anyone who’s going to give her an easier ride than the one she’s getting at the moment, but any German government is going to be primarily interested in Germany’s interests and that will always count for a lot.
So it’s not that Angela Merkel is falling over backwards to help Theresa May, or is going to, but it means that there’s one less hurdle to be crossed in this whole Article 50 process, which is trundling along inexorably towards March 2019.