What an interesting year 2017 is shaping up to be thus far. Donald Trump is taking the United States through a roller-coaster ride whilst delivering his manifesto pledges, and now the House of Lords is likely to pass the Brexit Bill that will allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50 and commence our divorce from the EU. And it is only March!
Speaking of this month, another unprecedented election is going to start in a country that does not normally make headline news over here: Holland. The British media have been lapping up attention from Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, who promises to end Holland’s EU membership and adopt a tough stance on Islamic radicalism. Though the credibility of opinion polls has come into question in recent years, they do place Wilders as the likely winner of these elections. Of course, the ‘experts’ anticipate he will fail to form a coalition with any of the established parties under their system of proportional representation. As The Spectator reported last year, if the Forum for Democracy, which is a moderate, middle class version of Wilders’ party, gain six seats, they will hold the balance of power and may well form a coalition with the Freedom Party.
It does not matter what type of electoral system a country uses; if a population demands change, they will vote for it en masse. Look at what happened in Scotland in 2011. The additional member system they use to elect their administrations was designed by the Blair government to prevent the SNP from ever achieving a majority. Yet the irony is they did just that, eventually. The polls may be underestimating Wilders’ base of support. He may not secure a majority of seats, but if he wins almost half, it shouldn’t be too complex for a minor party to prop up a Freedom Party-led government.
The implications of a Freedom Party victory will be profound. The Netherlands will more than likely pull out of the euro and almost certainly the EU at a later point. For those campaigning for the likes of Le Pen in France or the AFK party in Germany, it will be a morale boost for their activists, voters and the floating voters who are tired of the status quo. So ignore what Laura Kuenssburg said on her BBC documentary the other night; no matter how complicated Brexit will get, one has to wonder if there will be an EU left at this rate.
But what are the short-term consequences of the Dutch elections on our EU exit? If the House of Lords votes through the Brexit Bill tomorrow, Theresa May will be able to implement Article 50 on time. There are rumours circulating in the press that she will trigger it on Tuesday. But the Dutch elections are on Wednesday. Will she really want to distract the EU prior to these elections and annoy her negotiating partners? Or will she allow her European counterparts to reflect upon the consequences of the election (not that they have a spectacular record of accepting defeats in the Netherlands), give them time to articulate their next steps forward that week, and then deal with Brexit? In which case, she could begin our EU exit on either Thursday or Friday.
The British Prime Minister is a cautious person by nature. She has embarked upon a ‘hard’ Brexit without winning a sufficient majority to support her in the House of Commons via a general election. She has taken the biggest gamble in her life. But now that reality is sinking in, she will not want to land Europe with too many problems, which is why I anticipate she will begin our divorce on Friday.
If Wilders wins and May triggers Article 50 during the same week, the EU is in for the worst week of its life.