“This is the Brexit General Election”
By David Shiels, courtesy of Open Europe
A General Election in the UK has been confirmed for 12 December. The Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 received Royal Assent yesterday, and the campaign will formally begin after the dissolution of Parliament next week.
Although there is the potential for the campaign to take some unpredictable turns, Brexit is likely to be the major theme of this election in a way that it was not in 2017. Campaigners on both sides of the debate – Remainers and Leavers – will see it as their last chance to secure the outcome they want. Meanwhile, the positions of the main political parties have been clarified recently, and the campaign itself will demand that their Brexit message is explained clearly to the public.
Significantly, the Conservatives are going into the election as the pro-Brexit and pro-deal party. If Boris Johnson is returned with a majority, his Government will be in a strong position to ratify the revised Withdrawal Agreement. Many of the Conservative MPs associated with the anti-No Deal coalition in the present House of Commons will not be returning. Labour’s position is now also clearer than previously. If Jeremy Corbyn wins a majority, or if he can secure a confidence and supply arrangement with other parties, then his Government is likely to hold another referendum offering a choice between a soft Brexit or Remain. As with the Conservatives, Labour’s Brexit dissenters – namely their ‘pro-deal’ MPs in Leave seats – are also likely to be a diminished force after the election, with several of them retiring.
Positioning themselves as the ultra-Remain party, the Liberal Democrats pledge to revoke Article 50 if they win a majority, but in practice their position is to back a referendum in any other situation. The fact that the current opposition parties – including the Scottish National Party – have all coalesced around a referendum in some form means that this is the likely outcome of a hung Parliament. Some uncertainty may arise if the Conservatives fall just short of a majority and need the support of the Democratic Unionist Party again in order to form a Government. But one way or another, the election is likely to allow the country to move on to the next phase of the Brexit process.
While the election might offer some clarity on whether Brexit is happening or not, the campaign is unlikely to be a time for serious thinking about the many strategic and policy decisions the UK will have to make if Brexit proceeds. Open Europe will be continuing to produce research on a range of policy areas in preparation for all outcomes. In the meantime, our recent briefing on European Security Cooperation after Brexit is available here. Our explainer on the revised Withdrawal Agreement is here.
Finally, despite the chances of an imminent no-deal Brexit having reduced as a result of the revised deal, the possibility of No Deal has not yet been taken off the table completely: it remains the default form of exit on 31 January unless the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified. Our report on the consequences of a No Deal Brexit is available here.
Dr David Shiels holds a PhD in History from Cambridge, where he also studied for his masters and undergraduate degrees. His academic interests include Euroscepticism in the UK, immigration and domestic British politics. He is writing a book on the career of Enoch Powell and is an expert on the Thatcher era. David is from Northern Ireland and has written widely about Ulster Unionism and UK-Ireland relations.