GP Insights

GP Insights # 176, 3 November 2019

UK Elections: A delayed Brexit; divided Parliament
Sourina Bej

What happened?

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on the course towards the general election that he called for, on 12 December after winning the approval in the House of Commons. Johnson won a vote in the Commons by 438 to 20 margins. The election, which now needs to be approved by the House of Lords, is set to become a proxy referendum on the Brexit.

What is the background?

After failing to get the bill passed, the conservatives led by Boris Johnson have called for an early election. The decision for a snap election follows two significant developments. First, the new withdrawal deal agreed by Boris Johnson and European Union was accepted and then rejected in two consecutive rounds of voting in the House of Commons on 25 October leading Johnson to seek election as the only way to end the Brexit deadlock. Second, this non-passage of the new deal left the EU with no choice but to extend the deadline of the Brexit process till 31 January 2020. The extension of the Brexit deadline further led the opposition to vote in favour of the election motion. 

What does it mean? 

The election means two things for the Brexit: first, a delayed or a temporary shelving of the deadlock and second, riding on the Brexit sentiment other social issues such as National Health Scheme (NHS) and immigration will join the political agenda, thereby making it hard for the Parliamentary debates to remain focussed only on the issue of the Brexit. 

The progress for the pre-Christmas election and the response to it has been three-fold:

First, the election has so far witnessed different approaches being adopted by the main and the opposition party. Boris Johnson’s Conservative party sees the election in the binary. A vote for him amounts to a pro-Brexit affirmation over a vote against him. Thereby he has framed his political campaigns to look at the opposition parties from an anti-Brexit prism owing to whom the Brexit has been delayed so far. The Labour party does not want to talk about Brexit. Corbyn has pitched himself as the UK’s only real chance for change, and better public services after nearly ten years of Conservative austerity. The detour taken by Corbyn is only to mask the great divide over Brexit within the party. The smaller opposition parties are lining up to be the parties of the ‘Remain.’ This boxes Corbyn in as Labour has to support a different Brexit to Johnson now, but cannot support a no-Brexit deal. His party is bitterly split on the issue and coming down on either side could alienate large parts of his party. 

Second, the sentiment of the voters has been equally divided. Brexit was always a symptom of a broader crisis in the workings of the class economy rather than the cause. A look at the voters and the background of the demography in London itself would entail a mix of cultures, religion and class. However, a straight jacket approach to homogenising the polity or isolating from the semantics means losing sight of the fundamentals that is the diversity in the populace is deeply entrenched. The Brexit is a result of turning a blind eye on how diverse London and Britain has become in the past decade. The election results would be reflective of this diversity, but Brexit would be an answer to it. 

Third, the European Union has come to view the election as merely a delay and not a path in solving the deadlock. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said the problems to be solved remain the same and the solutions would also be the same,” which is to iron out the differences in the Parliament and approve the deal. 

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