GP Insights # 201, 15 December 2019
Conservative party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's bet on a snap election to receive a public mandate on Brexit in the United Kingdom on 12 December has paid off. The general election that took place after three years has secured Boris Johnson's position as the Prime Minister and backed his promise to "get Brexit done" and take the country out of the European Union by 31 January 2020. In addition, the Conservatives secured 364 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, a comfortable majority of 74.
With a clear majority now, the months of political deadlock over Brexit stands resolved but at the same time open a channel of negotiation with EU on the trade deal. Johnson, whose 20-week tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in Parliament and stark division between Remainers and Leavers, this victory on 12 December is the path ahead from where Theresa May started with the 2016 EU referendum.
What is the background?
The general election was the culmination of the deadlock over withdrawal agreement that Johnson negotiated with EU in October. It entails the UK leaving the customs union and the single market, with plans for a free-trade agreement later. The general election has changed the political landscape of Britain. The voting patterns have shown the clear divisions over how the public have voted for the main parties: Conservatives and Labour corresponding to the Conservatives representing the Leavers and Labour representing the Remainer sect of the Brexit debate.
What does it mean?
The election turnout was about 67 per cent, similar to the previous general election in 2017. However, the results mark a decisive shift in British politics. It is not only the Conservatives' best election performance since Thatcher but also Labour's worst defeat since 1935 when Clement Attlee leads the party.
The elections put forth three essential questions that Britain will have to address in the coming years.
Firstly, the clear mandate on "get Brexit done" inevitably brings Johnson to the next hurdle: What about Britain after Brexit? As his post-election speech reverberates the start of the healing process, it also ushers a potentially difficult transition period during which the UK and EU are expected to hammer out a deal on their future relationship. In spite of a distinct air of relief among the EU members on the passage of the withdrawal agreement in the British Parliament, negotiating a trade deal will not be easy with several sticking factors like how will the Northern Ireland economics looks, what about the health care facilities, the immigration question and what happens to British outside UK and in EU and vice versa.
Secondly, the failure of the Labour party has brought in a moment of retrospection for the party's stand and future. As Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, announced he would not be heading another election campaign, who will be the next leader of the party? The Labour party has lost votes of the working class in its prime heartlands. Several of Labour's strongholds across Britain's Midlands and north fell to the Conservatives. The swing is blamed on Corbyn's ambiguity over Brexit, his positions alienated the moderates and shifted the party firmly away from the centre-ground that brought Labour three successive election victories under Tony Blair. Interestingly the policies of the Labour party were much revered and that is where the Labour party should start.
Thirdly, the election has brought back the Scott question to the Brexit debate. The Liberal Democrats who were forecast to win 13 seats from the region under Jo Swinson lost her seat to the Scottish National Party. The Scottish National Party, which strongly opposes Brexit, won 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland setting the stage to demand a second independence vote. After her victory, Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said Johnson did not have the mandate to take Scotland out of the EU. This will prove to be Johnson's second hurdle while leading the country out of EU in 2020.