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UK election: May faces bleak future, tough Brexit process ahead

Strategists believe the U.K. election results point to a clear erosion of Prime Minister Theresa May's political leadership, setting the stage for arduous Brexit negotiations ahead.

With the bulk of seats declared in the General Election, no party has gained a clear majority and the U.K. now faces a hung parliament. Doubts over May's future are now widespread.

"The alarm bells should be ringing ... Her future looks bleak in the party," said Herve Lemahieu, research fellow at the Lowy Institute Institute for International Policy, a Sydney-based think tank. "This (election) is clearly an exercise that backfired on her."

"This election was a very big miscalculation," echoed Andrew Gamble, politics professor at the Universities of Cambridge and Sheffield, adding that May's authority would have weakened even with a Conservative majority outcome.

Speculation as to her resignation is already underway.

"She'll try to stay in the game, but there will be pressure within the party to see her moved. Even if she retains the leadership, she's lost credibility in the eyes of Brussels in the lead-up to the Brexit negotiations, so she's in a far worse position," said Lemahieu.

Tougher Brexit process ahead

The election results could throw a wrench into already challenging negotiations between U.K. and European Union officials on the U.K.'s divorce from the regional bloc. Formal talks are scheduled for the week of June 19.

Ballot papers being counted on May 8 in Redcar, England.
Ian Forsyth - Getty Images
Ballot papers being counted on May 8 in Redcar, England.

The first female chairman of the Conservatives, 60-year-old May surprised the public by calling a snap election on April 18 — a move aimed at strengthening her Brexit negotiations. Back in April, the Conservative government was polling ahead of Labour, but May's popularity has since suffered.

The election was based on May believing she could bury Labour and get greater support for the hard Brexit outcome she desires, explained Gabriel Stein, managing director of developed markets research at research firm 4CAST-RGE.

EU leaders are now bracing themselves for tricky dialogue ahead.

May's wings will be clipped as she will not reflect the will of the British people and that could undermine Brexit settlements, added Stein.

The scenario of a slim Conservative majority wouldn't have been idea for Brussels, explained Ivor Roberts, president of Trinity College at Oxford. "A small majority means a British government that is not a serious interlocutor."

If Labour had won the reigns of government, Corbyn's team was also expected to struggle with the Brexit process. "They would peddle a soft Brexit, but would still be left with many of same questions as to how to conduct the negotiations," explained Lemahieu.

"This is not a happy day for Brussels either."

A second referendum?

In the event of Corbyn becoming prime minister, there's been talk he could call for a repeat Brexit referendum. Former leader of the pro-Brexit UKIP party, Nigel Farage told the BBC on Friday that the country was "looking down the barrel of a second referendum."

Still, many have pointed out that it's not clear whether today's results would differ.

Labour's unlikely to call for another vote as they haven't challenged the referendum's results — unlike the Liberal Democrats who have insisted on a second referendum — said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

However, Labour does want a much softer Brexit, she said: "They would like to stay within the customs union and try to find a way to stay as attached to the EU as possible."

But that strategy may fall on deaf ears as European officials have already hardened their position on punishing the U.K., Conley continued.

"We're in unknown territory."