In a spectacular own-goal, Theresa May’s Conservatives have been forced into a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after being humiliated at the polls.
An election Mrs May called with the hope of boosting her Commons majority to ‘strengthen her hand’ in Brexit talks has left her authority severely diminished both at home and on the world stage.
The Prime Minister will now have an incredibly tough job managing the two well-organised factions in her party: the right-wing leavers who will fight to preserve their global Brexit vision; and the soft-Brexiteers who want to stay in the single market and have fewer restrictions on immigration.
In short, she has minimal room for manoeuvre in Brexit talks – the exact opposite of the outcome she wanted. She cannot concede too much to the leavers nor to the remainers and has to rely on a junior partner with an extremely confused Brexit policy (the DUP’s manifesto calls for a customs agreement with the EU and free trade deals with the rest of the world – two incompatible goals).
There is a huge amount of serious work to be done to secure a bright future for British farming and it will have to be done without the long-awaited 25-year Food and Farming Plan which was unceremoniously ditched from the Conservative manifesto.
Yes, there has been a promise to keep support payments in place until 2022, but we know next to nothing about the new ‘agri-environment scheme’ which will replace them. Will there be an element of protection from volatility, and if so, what will it look like?
How will the stated Conservative aims of cutting red tape and maintaining environmental protections be married? Perhaps the only ray of hope for Mrs May is on the devolution front, where SNP losses signal the end for IndyRef2.
Until now, the issue has been kicked into the longest of long grass, but new Secretary of State Michael Gove can now set out his plans for future division of agricultural powers, and he should do so quickly.