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editorial

The word "disaster" is being flung around liberally as a one-word summary of the British election. And yes, if your name is Theresa May, it's certainly a catastrophe of the first order.

But for everyone else, not least Britain's friends and allies, the election outcome is a good news story – or at least the best result that could reasonably have been hoped for.

Let us count the ways.

The "hard Brexit" that Ms. May wanted a mandate from the voters to pursue; involving a sharp and near-total break from the European Union? It's off the table.

The breakup of Britain itself, in a second Scottish independence referendum? Also off the menu, thanks to the enormous electoral losses suffered by the separation-minded Scottish National Party.

The renewal of conflict in Northern Ireland, provoked by Brexit? Don't hold your breath.

To remain in power, Ms. May's minority government needs the support of MPs from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party – which wants to avoid the kind of hard break with the EU that would upset the delicate ecosystem that exists between the Republic of Ireland and the North, including the open border made possible by shared EU membership.

As a result, as of Friday morning, a hard Brexit, or any Brexit at all, is far less likely than it was on Thursday night. And Great Britain's continued existence is more likely than ever.

What's more, while voters fatally wounded the Conservative Prime Minister, Ms. May, they didn't hand power to the Labour Party and its socialist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. That leaves Britain with a minority government, a need for compromise, and some breathing room to rethink an irrational rush to Brexit.

A disaster? Hardly.

Yes, Britain has been left with a muddle. But sometimes, compared to the alternatives, a muddle can be a gift. Canadians and Quebeckers, who muddled through a half century of constitutional conflict that ended up largely resolved without anyone separating, and without the constitutional changes separatists demanded, should be able to hear echoes of our own experience.

That's why Brits shouldn't regret the political uncertainty they've been handed. It's better than the political certainty that Ms. May wanted, with its fast-track to Brexit and Scottish separation.

The election result, and the temporary impossibility of speedy government action, means time for passions to cool. It's a chance for everyone to slow down, calm down or simply change the subject – which is what a lot of voters want. Just look at Scotland.

The SNP is still the most popular party in Scotland, but it just lost a quarter of its voters and third of its seats. The vast majority of Scots voted for a party other than the independence party. And many who abandoned the SNP appear to have done so precisely because they feared, not illogically, that a vote for the SNP meant another Scottish referendum.

Most Scots, like most Quebeckers, despite having strong nationalist feelings, want politicians to focus on things other than perpetually scheming for independence. As a result, Britain's second-largest nationalist movement may have no choice but to evolve.

What about Britain's largest nationalist movement? That would be the movement of British nationalism, which is above all English nationalism, and whose signature program is Brexit.

Ms. May and the Conservatives tried to make this election about Brexit and nothing but Brexit. That didn't fly with voters. The Conservatives went from being ahead of Labour by as much 20 percentage points at the beginning of the campaign to finishing a mere two points ahead in the popular vote.

Labour gained ground because it argued that other things – social programs, health care, austerity, even Conservative cutbacks to spending on the police – were what mattered, not Brexit. And it devoted the election to them, with great success.

But Brexit and British nationalism are far from over and done with. Once fringe causes, they are now at the heart of the Tory party. Despite the setback the Conservatives suffered in Ms. May's Brexit election, the party more than ever appears to be backed by nationalist-minded voters, the animating force behind Brexit.

In the previous election, the once marginal UK Independence Party, or UKIP, picked up nearly 13 per cent of the vote. On Thursday, UKIP disintegrated. More than eight out of ten of its former voters abandoned it – and the bulk appear to have moved to the Conservatives. For the Tories, this demographic is now a key to future victory, and a cross to bear.

Thursday's election result may be the best that could be have been hoped for, under the circumstances, but it's hardly ideal. And given the fragility of Ms. May's wounded minority government, expect another election before the year is out. The status quo will have a short shelf life.