Will May’s gamble deliver a better Brexit?

Brexit, Trump and a Hung Parliament.  What the business, development and investment community crave is stability.  Yet, as the ripples of the Brexit vote and financial crisis continue, we have precisely the opposite.  Many have questioned the election result. There is a narrative that explains it though, demonstrating that the societal trends exposed by the EU referendum hold true.

Theresa May built her campaign around the ability to force through a hard Brexit against EU negotiators. In doing so she failed to acknowledge two key points revealed by the very vote that made Brexit a reality.

Turnout for the 2015 general election was around 66%, yet for the EU referendum it was over 72%.  That equates to an extra 3 million votes.  In other words, a good number of non-voters in 2015, voted in the 2016 EU referendum.  Who these 3 million are matters.

Younger people from prosperous areas are typically more pro-EU and on the left, yet over recent elections, the young have been far less likely to vote.  It’s likely that part of the extra votes in the EU referendum came from these younger, anti-establishment remain voters. In deprived areas, election turnout is often low, yet support for Brexit was high.  So, it’s likely that part of the extra 3 million in the EU referendum came also from deprived anti-establishment leave voters.

Fast forward to the recent general election and turnout was 68.7%: around half of the extra 3 million votes cast in the EU referendum fell away.  Yet almost half – around 1.6 million – voted again.

Theresa May’s campaign message to deliver a strong Brexit ensured the younger anti-establishment ‘remain’ voters turned out once more against her. What May also failed to recognise was that much of the anti-establishment ‘leave’ vote would revert to not voting.  Add in May’s U-turn on social care, no-shows at TV debates, and a better than predicted Labour performance and you have the result.

For business, the outcome tells us a few things: the tensions between the haves and have-nots aren’t going away – we need the right skills system to help business and young people from all backgrounds to succeed. The result will probably see a more conciliatory approach to Brexit negotiations and access to the single market, better for local manufacturers who export to Europe.

We are unlikely to see an end to uncertainty, which will risk delays to investment – this could be damaging. Finally, we live in a febrile world – for the investment and development community, thoughtful consultation, engagement and communication with stakeholders and communities is more important than ever in ensuring developments go ahead.