Five challenges facing next UK premier

Britain's withdrawal from the European Union will top the list of priorities for the prime minister. [Defence Images/Flickr]

Whoever ends up becoming Britain’s new prime minister faces a daunting five years in office, with the negotiations of the country’s withdrawal from the European Union topping the list of priorities.

Here are the five main challenges ahead:

Brexit

The Brexit negotiations are set to start around 19 June, with Britain set to leave the bloc by the end of March 2019.

First up will be the status of EU nationals resident in Britain, and of British citizens living elsewhere in the bloc.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have said freedom of movement will end when Britain leaves the EU.

If no party wins an overall majority as indicated in Thursday’s exit poll, there will be little time to form a new government and get a negotiating stance up and running.

Parliament meets on 13 June to swear in MPs.

The state opening of parliament by Queen Elizabeth II is set for 19 June, when she will read out her new government’s programme.

Prime Minister Theresa May called the election in order to strengthen her majority in parliament to go into the Brexit talks with a more secure hand.

EPP official: UK shouldn't 'use' citizenship to put pressure on Brexit talks

The EU suspects that the UK will play political games in the Brexit negotiations on the issue of citizenship due to the bloc’s perceived strong interest in the matter, a European People’s Party (EPP) official revealed. EURACTIV.com reports from Malta.

Terrorism and security

The election was meant to be about Brexit but deadly terror attacks in Manchester, where 22 people were killed in a suicide bombing, and London, when eight were killed in a van and knife rampage, changed the debate.

London was the third Islamist terror attack in three months, also following an attack on Westminster Bridge.

Eighteen terror plots have been foiled since 2013 – five of them since March.

May has come under pressure during the campaign for cutting thousands of police jobs during her time as interior minister.

There were further questions when it emerged some of the attackers were known to security services and apparently escaped the surveillance net.

Tackling the problem of radicalisation among British Muslims and jihadists returning home from Syria will likely be a recurring theme for the incoming government.

Prime Minister Theresa May warned the European Union that failing to reach a new trade deal once Britain leaves the bloc could damage cooperation against crime and terrorism. But although security is a potential bargaining chip for Britain in the Brexit negotiations – it’s one that must be played carefully, analysts say.

Security is risky card for Britain in Brexit talks, analysts say

From sharing intelligence after terror attacks to pursuing cross-border criminals, security is a potential bargaining chip for Britain in the Brexit negotiations – but one that must be played carefully, analysts say.

Economy

Britain ran a budget deficit of 2.6% of gross domestic product in March 2017, down from 9.9% in 2010 after the financial crash.

Its total public debt was £1.7 trillion (€1.94tn) in April, or 86.0% of gross domestic product (GDP). Growth stands at 1.8% and inflation at 2.6%.

Leaving the EU single market would in theory give Britain the opportunity to strike its own trade deals outside the bloc. But those usually take years to negotiate and the EU has made clear that Britain cannot strike deals as long as it is part of the single market.

The Conservatives pledged to eliminate the deficit and return Britain to profit by the “middle of the next decade”, meaning further years of austerity.

Labour pledged to end austerity, hike corporation tax, raise taxes for the top five percent of earners, and eliminate the deficit within five years.

The pound plunged on the exit poll predicting a hung parliament.

Brexit GDP losses to dwarf Britain's EU budget contributions

As net contributors to the EU budget, the UK’s Brexiteers had hoped they would be better off after leaving the bloc. But the evidence suggests Britain stands to lose more through reduced market access than it could hope to claw back from Brussels.

Scotland

Scotland’s governing Nationalists are pushing for a second independence referendum once the terms of the final Brexit deal start to become clear in late 2018 or early 2019.

Backed up by the Greens, the separatists have the Scottish parliament’s support to ask the British government for the formal powers to start the process.

Theresa May fended off their push saying now was not the time, so soon after the 2014 referendum, when 55% backed keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom.

If Labour required the backing of the Scottish Nationalists to form a government, it would likely come at the price of another referendum.

Sturgeon: Scotland wants to be EU member, but doesn’t want the euro

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday (14 May) said she would want Scotland to be a European Union member but not adopt the euro if it ever became independent.

Northern Ireland

One of the most delicate parts of the Brexit negotiations will be the place of Northern Ireland within the UK, and relations with the Republic of Ireland, which will be the kingdom’s only land border with the EU.

The likelihood of the UK being out of the EU single market, customs union and the EU’s free movement area could mean a return of a “hard border” which is fiercely opposed by local residents.

The 1998 accords that maintain the peace in the province after three decades of inter-community bloodshed are delicate and there is concern that Brexit could upset stability.

There is currently no sign that a majority in Northern Ireland, where pro-British Protestants remain the largest group, want to merge into the republic.

But Irish nationalists Sinn Fein have called for a referendum on reunification within the next five years.

EU says united Ireland would be automatic full member

European Union leaders promised on Saturday (29 April) to welcome Northern Ireland into the EU if a referendum in the future were to unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

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