Johnson’s Brexit Election: Mandate or Disaster?

Anyone who has followed the Brexit situation in the United Kingdom over the past 3 years would likely use one common word to describe it, “disaster.” Tomorrow, the United Kingdom heads back to the polls to see if Boris Johnson will be granted the majority he needs to finally have “Brexit, Actually.”

On June 23, 2016, citizens of the United Kingdom went to the polls to vote for “Brexit” or the “British Exit” from the European Union, by a margin of 52% to 48%. While not an overwhelming mandate, with a 72% turnout it was a mandate that MPs (Members of Parliament) could not ignore nonetheless. But three Conservative Prime Ministers later, Brexit still isn’t near completion, with the most recent play being the United Kingdom’s third general election in four years.

Brexit was pushed for several years by UK citizens who felt that the European Union had too much of an impact on the United Kingdom. Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) argue that politicians in Germany and France should not be deciding what is best for the UK, France and Bulgaria, and that each nation has different needs. Two of the major issues impacting the UK decision to “Leave” has been trade agreements and the EU’s handling of the recent migrant crisis. British citizens have publicly rejected the idea of taking in more migrants, claiming the financial burden is too high.

In 2016, David Cameron’s Conservative Party held a 12 seat majority during the course of the public Brexit vote. Cameron, a supporter of the “Remain” movement, resigned after the vote to allow a new Prime Minister to back the “Leave” movement. The Conservative Party’s chosen successor was Theresa May, who would struggle for the next three years to push Brexit through Parliament despite the public vote. May triggered Article 50 at the end of March 2017, officially indicating that the UK would leave the European Union in two years time. To achieve this goal, May called for a snap general election in June to attempt to gain new seats in Parliament that would back a Brexit deal.

However, the election backfired, and while the Conservative Party maintained its leadership under the Parliamentary system, they lost their majority, with a net loss of 13 seats. After two more years of failed negotiations, Theresa May resigned as Prime Minister in 2019 to make way for Boris Johnson.

The failure of Brexit so far is prolonged by the complexity of the UK Parliament. While the Labour Party opposes Brexit in its entirety, the Conservative Party remains split on a number of issues. While the party as a whole supports Brexit, some members still oppose it, and others have concerns with May’s negotiated deals. One such issue was an agreement that there would be no border posts between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland once the deal was approved. Some MPs felt this would only entrap the UK for years to come, and prevent them from pursuing major trade agreements with other nations.

After May resigned, the Conservative Party elected former London Mayor Boris Johnson to lead as the new Prime Minister. Johnson has consistently been a supporter of the “Leave” movement, and is seen as the “Donald Trump” of the United Kingdom. Upon taking office in July of 2019, Johnson renegotiated May’s agreement, giving the UK more freedom to enter into other trade agreements, and creating a “customs border” between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

However, in October, the UK Parliament postponed the vote on Johnson’s deal, leading Johnson to request a new election in an attempt to have a pro-Brexit majority. That vote takes place tomorrow, December 12, in the United Kingdom. If Johnson and the Conservatives are successful, a new Brexit deal could be voted on by the end of January (The European Union’s new deadline for a Brexit deal is January 31, 2020). However, there is also the possibility that the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn could win an outright majority, and stop Brexit altogether.

A recent poll reported by The Telegraph suggests that Conservatives maintain an average of a 9.6 percent lead over Labour in tomorrow’s election. But as Brexit showed, anything could happen. Johnson had appeared to give the Conservatives a boost since becoming Prime Minister, but that lead had dwindled back down the closer the election appeared. Johnson has recent gone viral with a new ad promoting Brexit by parodying “Love Actually.”

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Overall, I believe that the Conservatives will regain their majority, but by a very slim margin. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has struggled to maintain a consistent message that resonates with the British electorate, and I do not see things changing this time around. In terms of Brexit, it remains likely that we will not see a deal passed by the end of January. In the end, it will all depend on how many votes the Conservatives are able to pick up tomorrow, and if they are solid Brexit votes or not. Either way, this is a race Americans should be watching, as any future deals between the UK, EU and the United States could have impacts on trade back home.

Check out more analysis on foreign policy involving the United Kingdom in “America 2020: The Grand American Political Landscape” available on Amazon today! 

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