The election, Brexit - and Larry the Downing Street cat

Larry the Downing Street cat
Image caption Larry the Downing Street cat checks out the watching media the morning after the election.

A visitor from another planet listening to the prime minister's speech outside No 10 on Friday could be forgiven for assuming nothing of significance happened the day before.

There was no change of tone, no acknowledgement of any fresh message the voters had sent Mrs May, bar a passing reference to opportunity and fairness that echoed her speech on the same spot 11 months ago. It seems odd to me she didn't spend more of the election campaign talking about helping those who are "just managing" as she called them in her first (well-received) Downing Street speech.

Her defiance extended to an insistence she would stick to the existing timetable for Brexit talks and her ambition produced the phrase "over the next five years".

Perhaps she was just trying to steady the ship amid calls for her to resign. The Conservatives are notoriously ruthless with leaders who fail and I wouldn't put my mortgage on her still being in place for the conclusion of Brexit talks.


Conservative MPs I have spoken to think she has done the right thing for now and that resignation would have increased the uncertainty with all the impact that would have had on financial markets.

What does the loss of the Conservative majority mean for Brexit? That is harder to say. There is a growing argument that it means Mrs May will have to compromise more and go for a "softer" Brexit. But that ignores the sizeable numbers of Conservative and DUP MPs who favour a "clean Brexit" that would mean leaving the single market, the customs union and not paying into the pot after the UK has left. It also relies on the assumption that the remaining 27 EU countries are prepared to offer a choice of Brexit.

In one of the most telling interventions of the election campaign, David Cameron suggested that the prime minister needed a large majority to prevent (rather than deliver) an "extreme Brexit".

"It's so important," he said, "that the Conservatives win and win well, so Theresa can negotiate that Brexit deal, so she can stand up to people who want an extreme Brexit either here or in Brussels."

'Open Brexit'

A tiny majority - or no majority at all - would leave Theresa May having to secure a deal that would satisfy the likes of both Sir William Cash and Kenneth Clarke, a tall order in any circumstances. Unless Mrs May takes the advice of the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who suggests she talks to other political parties to try to secure a cross-party consensus on what she called "an open Brexit".

Ruth Davidson was one of her party's silver linings, leading the Conservatives to victory in 13 seats. Labour have pointed out that under 'English Votes for English Laws' those Scottish Tory MPs won't be able to take part in some Commons votes on health and education in England. That shouldn't affect the Conservatives' chances of winning votes in those areas as 46 non-Conservative MPs from Scotland would face the same restriction. As indeed would the new Tories' new friends from Northern Ireland.

The Conservatives still have a parliamentary majority in England but its modest size means that controversial issues such as the expansion of grammar schools may struggle to pass through the House of Commons.