The hung parliament must not be allowed to delay Brexit

The hung parliament must not be allowed to delay Brexit

What a night.

In advance of the 2010 General Election I ran a campaign called “Save General Election Night” to counter the efforts of a number of returning officers who were seeking to move election counts to the Friday morning: the campaign was successful as Parliament enshrined overnight counting in law for all but a handful of seats – and over the last few hours we have been seen one of the most dramatic election nights that anyone can remember.

Having set out to secure a mandate and majority of her own, Theresa May finds herself this morning as the leader of the party with the largest number of MPs but a handful of seats short of having an overall majority.

At a constituency level, we’ve seen some extraordinary results. In a few areas where there was a big Leave vote at the EU referendum, the Tories made some incredible gains, like Derbyshire North East, Walsall North, Stoke-on-Trent South and Mansfield – several of which they had never won in history.

But of course they lost more seats than they gained. A few of those losses came in areas where a strong Remain feeling may be deemed an explanation for the result, such as the defeats in Battersea or Twickenham. But then Labour’s Kate Hoey – facing that onslaught over her pro-Brexit stance from the Lib Dems – held the Remain territory of Vauxhall with an increased voteshare and bigger majority, while Zac Goldsmith avenged his by-election defeat with a victory over the Lib Dems in Remain-backing Richmond Park (albeit by a mere 45 votes).

There were also some dedicated Brexiteers who backed the Vote Leave campaign – mainly representing Leave-voting areas – who succumbed nonetheless to the national swing towards Labour. I pay particular tribute here to Caroline Ansell, Andrew Bingham, Sir Julian Brazier, David Burrowes, James Davies, Richard Fuller, Stewart Jackson, Charlotte Leslie, Jason McCartney, Karl McCartney, David Nuttall and James Wharton who will not be returning to Parliament next week.

But what about the Liberal Democrats, who set so much stall on purporting to represent the anti-Brexit movement? They held four of their eight seats but lost four – including the scalp of former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who lost his Sheffield seat to Labour. They gained eight others, leaving them with a tally of 12, on a share of the vote that looks like being even lower than what they attained in 2015. That strikes me as pretty clear signal that the electorate were not especially taken by their brand of democracy denial as far as Brexit is concerned.

Two-party politics looks very much to be the order of the day across England, with UKIP’s support evaporating – the party looks set to end the night on less than 2% of the national vote.

Scotland, of course, is a different story. While the SNP still have the most seats, the party lost more than 20 constituencies, including those of former First Minister, Alex Salmond, and their Westminster leader, Angus Robertson. The Tories now have 13 seats north of the border to Labour’s seven and the Lib Dems’ four.

Northern Ireland has also provided its share of drama: the SDLP and UUP have been wiped out, with the Brexit-backing DUP now sending ten MPs to Westminster, while Sinn Fein won seven of the province’s seats. Given that they have reiterated again overnight that they will not take those seats, it means a government will only need 322 rather than 326 votes to get its business through the Commons. Crucially, the Conservative and DUP parliamentary contingents combined could achieve those numbers – just.

With her party having won the most seats and the most votes, I would expect Theresa May to seek to form a government. Clearly there are going to be questions asked about how long she might intend remaining Prime Minister, although the indications this morning are that she does not intend causing instability by quitting in the immediate future. But those questions are not really for me to consider.

On Brexit, last year’s referendum result still stands. And there is a consensus between the Conservative and Labour parties to accept that result – the fact that Jeremy Corbyn did so and appeared to accept an end to free movement, for example, will have given many Leave-inclined voters the confidence to vote for his party yesterday. And in any case, as I said above, there are the numbers in the House of Commons when factoring in the ten Brexit-supporting DUP MPs, for backing Brexit as defined by Theresa May in advance of the election. Yes, the numbers are extremely tight, but also factoring in the handful of pro-Brexit Labour MPs, it means that there is no excuse for any delay in pursuing the all-important Brexit negotiations.