British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally won lawmakers’ support for an early election, setting up a December 12 ballot that will be dominated by Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit.
The United Kingdom parliament will dissolve next week, and the parties will go into an overdrive on their five-week campaigns.
This will be the UK’s first election in dark and dreary December since 1923 — a time of year when Britons prefer Christmas parties to political party hustings. Voters will have some stark choices on Brexit, alongside the usual overenthusiastic promises, scary scenarios, misrepresentations and foggy numbers.
Will the British double down on wanting to leave the European Union (EU)? Or will they change their minds and decide to stay in the largest trading club on the planet?
The Conservative Party under Johnson will run as 100 per cent for Brexit, under the banner “Get Brexit done”.
The prime minister is planning to campaign against the establishment: The devious opposition, overreaching jurists and other elites who he says have conspired to deny the country its freedom from the EU.
Never mind that Johnson is a scion of privilege — a diplomat’s son, schooled at Eton and Oxford, who went on to become a celebrity journalist and politician with a country home. He hopes that an election will allow his party to regain its parliamentary majority and give him a mandate to do Brexit his way, according to the terms of the withdrawal deal he negotiated with EU leaders.
Labour has adopted an awkward position on Brexit. The party’s official plan is: Let’s win the election; then let’s negotiate a very soft, very closely aligned “Labour Brexit” with Europe; then let’s have a Labour Party conference to decide whether to support the deal. And finally, let’s have a second referendum to see whether the people support it.
The new Brexit Party, led by talk show host Nigel Farage, will be 200 per cent for Brexit, arguing: Why even talk to the Europeans anymore? Let’s crash out.
The Liberal Democrats will campaign to stop Brexit. And have a second referendum.
The Scottish Nationalist Party will push to remain in the EU — and, by the way, promote Scottish independence.
And then there’s Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, now the main opposition. Labour will seek a 21st-century socialist agenda, aiming to take back control of utilities and transport, pursue a radical Green New Deal to curb climate change, and put workers on corporate boards. It will campaign under the banner: “For the many not the few.”
But Labour has adopted an awkward position on Brexit. The party’s official plan is: Let’s win the election; then let’s negotiate a very soft, very closely aligned “Labour Brexit” with Europe; then let’s have a Labour Party conference to decide whether to support the deal. And finally, let’s have a second referendum to see whether the people support it.
Recent opinion polls have put the Conservative Party ten points above Labour, but pollsters caution that it’s early. Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, had a 20-point advantage over Labour when she called an election in April 2017. But Labour slashed that lead over the course of campaigning, costing May her parliamentary majority.
If Johnson maintains his ten-point lead until Election Day — and that’s a big if — that should be enough to deliver an overall majority, not necessarily an overwhelming one, but probably enough for him to be able to do what he wants to do on Brexit.
However, if Johnson’s Conservatives don’t win an overall majority, they have fewer friends than Labour with which to broker deals.
More on British general elections
In a bit of pre-election manoeuvring, Johnson readmitted 10 of the 21 lawmakers he kicked out of the Conservative Party last month. Those back in his good graces include Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill.
The agreement on an election is a bit of rare good news for Johnson, who has suffered defeat after defeat since he was selected as the leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister in July.
Lawmakers approved in principle the Brexit deal he negotiated with EU leaders, but then the House of Commons said no to the fast-tracked timetable Johnson wanted to get the legislation approved.
In the end, Johnson was forced to grudgingly accept the EU’s offer to delay Brexit until January, and then he lost his third motion for an early election.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who spent more time on Brexit than he probably wanted to during his five-year term, announced hat the 27 remaining EU members had formally approved a Brexit extension until the end of January. “It may be the last one,” he urged Britons, adding, “I will keep my fingers crossed for you.”
— Washington Post
Karla Adam and William Booth are journalists who specialise in European politics.