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What does a hung parliament mean for Brexit?

The start of the negotiations could be delayed.

When Theresa May called the general election, she claimed that it was all about Brexit. "Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union," she said.

The “strong and stable” message that she pinned her election hopes on was all about securing a large mandate for her hard Brexit position, so that she could go into negotiations with the EU27 representatives confident that she had a large Conservative majority in the House of Commons to pass any Brexit-related legislation that she might need with minimal opposition.

Yet after the vote, Theresa May finds herself with fewer Conservative MPs than David Cameron secured in 2015. Based on the electoral arithmetic of this hung parliament, the most likely outcome looks to be a minority Conservative government propped up by the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland – who last night increased their total from eight to ten parliamentary seats.

The Brexit negotiations were due to begin on 19 June. However, there has already been suggestion that these could be delayed. The EU budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger has responded to the UK election result on German radio, saying that May’s weakened position could cause problems for both sides.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit negotiator for the European parliament, fears the outcome of this election will make "already complex negotiations even more complicated."

"We need a government that can act. With a weak negotiating partner, there's the danger that the negotiations will turn out badly for both sides. . . I expect more uncertainty now."

Without a Commons majority, even if May remains as Prime Minister (which at the moment she is indicating that she will) she could have to water down any Brexit-related legislation that goes before parliament if it is to pass.

Her “hard Brexit” option involved the UK leaving the single market and the customs union, with an end to the free movement of workers, but all of these elements could end up back on the table, along with the so-called “Norway option” that would see the UK remain in the European Economic Area. Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne said on ITV News: “Hard Brexit went into the rubbish bin tonight."

If there are protracted hung parliament negotiations, the Brexit talks may have to be delayed further. If no one party can command the confidence of the House of Commons, existing ministers stay in office but operate under purdah rules, which advise against new actions or directions not supported by the democratic vote.

The Labour Party’s election manifesto set out its position on Brexit clearly. It said that it “accepts the referendum  result” but opposed the Conservatives' proposals for hard Brexit. It said: “We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union – which are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain.”

It also said it would prioritise the rights of EU nationals living in Britain – something which Theresa May had declined to address before beginning the Brexit process with the triggering of Article 50 – and seek to protect workers’ rights in any eventual deal with the EU.

There are many uncertainties around the Brexit process – even more than there were before the election was called. Yet one thing is clear: Theresa May called an election in order to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. She has achieved precisely the opposite.

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman.

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.