General Election results: Green economy braced for further uncertainty after hung parliament vote
Clouds of uncertainty continue to hover over the future of a number of key long-term environmental policy frameworks as the Conservative Party has failed to win an overall majority in a shock outcome of the UK General Election.
A hung parliament was confirmed in the early hours of Friday morning (9 June), with the Conservatives predicted to secure 318 parliamentary seats - 8 fewer than the total number required to form a majority Government, and 13 fewer than the Party's 2015 tally.
In a surprise turn of events, the Labour Party is predicted to gain 30 seats to take its overall share of MPs to 262, placing it in a much stronger position to hold the Conservatives to account over energy and environment regulation and potentially prevent a 'hard' Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May is now facing calls to resign from both senior Conservative and Labour representatives, with her decision to call this snap General Election criticised as a “gamble that backfired”.
Holding on to her Maidenhead seat for the Conservatives, May has promised a “period of stability”, but re-elected Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has said it is time for May to "make way" for a Government that would be "truly representative of the people of this country".
Hung parliament: What happens next?
The Tories will now remain in office until it is decided who will attempt to form a new Government or May decides to resign. Either of the two major political parties could opt to go it alone and attempt to run a minority Government, or to enter a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties.
A Tory-led Government propped up by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) appears the likeliest way forward, with the latter securing 10 seats which would edge the Tories over the 326 threshold required to lead by majority. This scenario would not necessarily spell good news for edie readers, with DUP's 7-page manifesto containing no mention of any energy, environment or climate change issues.
Whatever the outcome, negotiations will need to be concluded before a deadline of next Tuesday, 13 June, when the new parliament is due to officially meet for the first time.
This uncertainty comes at what is a crucial time in UK politics, with the country's Brexit negotiations due to commence on 19 June, although it is possible the UK could ask the EU for a delay. A lack of clarity around Brexit raises questions about how EU-derived environmental legislation will be affected in upcoming talks.
A slim possibility remains that Corbyn could lead a coalition with the SNP, Lib Dems and Green Party. Indeed, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already claimed she "would look to be part of a progressive alliance that pursued progressive policies".
This result would be viewed as favourable among the green business community, 88% of which stated in a snap edie poll that one of these parties had the best green policy approach. An alliance could represent a major opportunity for Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, who successfully retained her Brighton Pavilion seat this morning. However, the Green Party failed to gain seats in the Bristol West and the Isle of Wight constituencies, finishing third in both target seats.
Hung parliament: What it means for green business
Britain's green policy is now at a standstill, and sustainability professionals will be concerned that this could cause a further delay to the release of some major proposed environmental legislation, such as the Clean Growth Plan and the 25-Year Environment Plan - both of which were promised last year, but both are still yet to be published. Last week’s green policy survey showed that the green business community’s patience is growing thin, with a huge 82% of green business leaders claiming that the publication of the Clean Growth Plan was 'very' or 'extremely' important, while 83% said the same of the 25-Year Plan.
And then there's air quality. As edie reported last week, environmental lawyers are taking the Government to the High Court for a third time in a bid to remove "major flaws" from minister's plans to tackle the UK's illegal levels of air pollution. Findings from the Government’s consultation on its recently released Air Quality Plan will now almost certainly face postponement.
On the plus side, the Conservatives' loss of seats will mean the party can be more closely held to account over the level of ambition when it comes to key environmental legislation. This will be particularly important for areas like fracking, with the Conservatives standing as the only major party to support the growth of Britain's shale gas industry, wheras Labour has said it would completely ban fracking development.
But the reality is that the Tories - who have become known for a 'chop-and-change' approach to green policy in recent years - do still have the most seats. When asked how they felt about the approach to energy and environment policy taken by the Conservatives in recent years, 61% of edie readers said they were 'very disappointed', while 30% were 'not really impressed'.
Moreover, DUP's lack of stated green policy ambition leaves little to be optimistic about at this stage, placing the green economy on red alert, for the time being.
Hung parliament: What's happened to the green MPs?
In a night of electoral shocks, a number of energy and environment-related MPs have managed to secure their posts in the upcoming parliament, with the key updates listed below:
- BEIS Secretary Greg Clark re-elected as MP for Tunbridge Wells
- Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom retains strong majority in South Northamptonshire.
- Labour MP and Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh holds on to marginal seat of Wakefield.
- Majorities recorded for BEIS Shadow Secretary Rebecca-Long Bailey and Shadow Climate Minister Alan Whitehead.
- Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith regains Richmond Park.
George Ogleby & Luke Nicholls