General Election result: a hung Parliament

The General Election results are in, and the outcome is one that very few people or polls predicted: a hung Parliament.

Polling Station

While the Conservatives remain the largest party in the House of Commons, they have fallen short of an overall majority. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has visited the Queen to request permission to form a government, and has indicated her intention to form a minority administration with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), returned as Northern Ireland’s largest party with ten seats. Mrs May affirmed her intention to provide “certainty”, and to deliver the UK’s departure from the European Union to the existing timetable.

On a night where many expectations were confounded, the Conservatives lost 12 seats to fall 8 short of an overall majority on 318, despite increasing their share of the vote. Labour outperformed many of the polls by gaining 29 seats, ending on 40% of the vote compared to the Conservatives’ 42.4%. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party’s dominance was reduced as they lost 21 seats, while the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and Sinn Fein all made gains. The Greens held their only seat, whilst UKIP ended the night without a single MP.

A hung Parliament: what happens now?

Despite losing their majority, as the largest party and incumbent government, the Conservatives have the first opportunity to form a Government. With the support of the DUP (which gives a working majority of seven), the Conservatives hope to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This may not be a formal agreement, but a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement on a vote by vote basis to enable the Government to win votes and pass legislation.

With the election concluded, Parliament will now kick back into action. The election of the Speaker will take place on 13 June, followed by the swearing in of new and returning MPs over subsequent days. The first test of the new minority administration’s ability to govern will come following the state opening of Parliament on 19 June, when the Commons votes on the contents of the Queen’s Speech, which will outline the Government’s legislative agenda.

What are the implications for environment and science policy?

In the short term, the election result creates some uncertainty. While the Conservatives will seek to implement their manifesto pledges, including implementing Brexit by leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, and introducing a Great Repeal Bill to transfer EU legislation into UK law, this task may be substantially more difficult without a majority.

On science, key Conservative manifesto pledges included increasing investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP within ten years, and continuing to “collaborate in science and innovation” with the European Union. The Campaign for Science and Engineering has suggested that a hung Parliament could be good for science if it leads to a “softer” Brexit. The DUP manifesto lists continued participation in EU research funding programmes is highlighted as one of its Brexit priorities.

On the environment, the Conservatives headline policy, as in their 2015 manifesto, was to introduce a comprehensive 25-year plan to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it, and we may now see this plan come to fruition. Key legislative proposals affecting environmental protections, not least the proposed Great Repeal Bill, could however face a more difficult passage through Parliament.

The next steps?

Will a minority Conservative government prove stable? Will a hung Parliament be good for science? Will the course of Brexit remain unaltered? Less than 24 hours after the polls have closed, we will have to wait for the full answers to these questions to become apparent. We will be engaging fully with the new Government to promote the value of ecological science and evidence-informed policymaking.