UK Election: What it means for the UK, Europe and Canada?

At the BCCTC event held at the downtown Toronto offices of Gowling WLG, the morning after the June 8 British parliamentary elections, HM Consul General in Toronto, Kevin McGurgan reported that the ruling Conservatives Party won only 318 seats and lost its majority in the House of Commons.

He also shared other information with the 70 attendees such as despite not winning the election, Labour Party captured 262 seats, an increase of 29 members from the 2015 election while winning 40% of total votes cast. That represented the largest the share of the popular vote that it had received since Clement Attlee was elected prime minister in 1945. Much of the success resulted from the support of almost 75 per cent of voters in the 18-25-year-old age group, a major increase over the 2015 election results. As well, he mentioned that 200 women, the highest number ever, were elected to the House of Commons.

Event moderator, Tom Clark, former Global TV newscaster and current chair of Global Public Affairs mentioned that overnight sterling had dropped 2 per cent against other major currencies such as the Euro. When he asked panelist Matt Scuffham, Reuter’s senior financial correspondent for Canada about its impact on the British economy, Scuffham responded that sterling’s fall could boost British exports since it made its products cheaper and more competitive in world markets.

Jason Langrish, Executive Director of the advocacy group, The Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business, explained that the uncertainties arising from a “hung parliament” in Westminster further complicates Prime Minister May’s proposed hard Brexit negotiations. Such talks were originally scheduled to start in Brussels in two weeks. Langrish admitted that he has never been a Brexit supporter owing the slim margin of voter support in the 2016 British national referendum as well as the extremely tight two-year window for British and EU negotiators to settle the terms of separation.

He supported his positon by explaining that major trade agreements are very complex documents which require long and detailed negotiations. For example, the recently concluded CETA talks between Canada and the EU involved eight years of often tense discussion. As well, he also looks upon the earlier Brexit referendum as one more concerned with UK voters’ social concerns rather than national economic and trade issues.

However, Scuffham and Langrish both agreed that the campaign was a complete surprise for Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservative Party. Early polls had projected a Tory majority of up to 100 seats. However, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn emerged as an effective and persuasive, grass-roots campaigner addressing voter worries over eight years of Conservative austerity on their lives.

During the campaign, Prime Minister May was unable to make any personal connection with everyday citizens and their growing concerns about government services such as healthcare and security. For now, she plans to remain in office leading a minority government with the support of the 10-member, Democratic Union Party from Northern Ireland.

The speakers agreed that the weeks ahead will be filled with uncertainty.

As for Canada, CETA will become the law of the land very soon solidifying trade relations between us and the EU.

Langrish believes that a hard Brexit, should it occur, will not necessarily have a huge impact on Canadian trade. At the same time, he contends that many European leaders privately want Britain to remain a EU member. In response to the question, what’s going to happen? he said, “It’s too early to tell.”

Statements from our partners:

BABC’s statement on UK election

COBCOE’s statement on General Election result

Click here to see more pictures of the event:

Thanks to Gowling WLG for hosting us!