Dublin: After years of arguing over Brexit, months of political stagnation at Westminster and weeks of campaigning by politicians across the United Kingdom, Britain’s voters have their say now in a general election that will shape the future of their country for the next decade and beyond.
And after weeks consistently leading in opinion polls, the finals surveys of voters show the Conservatives and Boris Johnson have stuttered in recent days, with opposition Labour support firming up before voting.
Ballot boxes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are open on Thursday from 7am to 10pm. The first results should come shortly after 3am UAE time on Friday morning, with the final picture emerging by lunchtime then.
Those opinion polls, however, point to Conservative majority of roughly 25 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons, but the possibility of a hung parliament — where no party has an overall majority — is still on the table. That hung parliament scenario becomes possible if voters cast their ballots across traditional Labour-Conservative lines in a tactical manner to elect pro-Brexit or Remain Members of Parliament.
And despite three years of debate on Brexit, two separate withdrawal agreements reached with the EU, the issue of Britain leaving the political and social bloc still remains the single-most important issue for voters now.
Johnson has focused the Conservative campaign on a promise to “Get Brexit Done” — meaning the UK would leave the EU on January 31 and then fast-track free trade negotiations to sever all formal ties with Brussels by the end of 2020.
Pollster YouGov predicts Johnson is on course for a 28-seat majority but also cautions that a hung parliament is possible. UK polling companies largely wrongly predicted the outcome of the June 2017 general election.
“The margins are extremely tight and small swings in a number of seats, perhaps from tactical voting and a continuation of Labour’s upward trend, means we can’t currently work out a hung parliament,” said Chris Curtis, YouGov’s political research manager.
“This is a very close fought campaign and we need every vote,” Johnson told reporters as he campaigned on Wednesday in the English Midlands.
In Scotland, polls suggest that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party will win most — more than 45 — of the 56 seats north of the border. She is campaigning on the need for a second independence referendum, allowing the Scots who voted by a large majority to stay in the EU, to once more be aligned with Brussels.
In Northern Ireland, where 10 Democratic Ulster Unionist MPs propped up the minority governments of former Prime Minister Theresa May and then Johnson in the last parliament, voters will be decided on whether the most recent withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU advances or hinders the province’s relationship with the rest of the UK. Any Sinn Fein MPs elected in the province — there were seven in the last parliament — don’t take their seats at Westminster, meaning the numbers needed for an overall majority in the Commons are fewer, depending on the final results.
The YouGov opinion poll predicts that Labour might win just 230 or so seats, a level that would represent the party’s worst performance since the early 1980s. but the party has been rising in the polls, pointing to a much closer race than YouGov predicts.
Corbyn said that if he forms a government, his first act will be to sign an emergency order creating immediate emergency hostels for the Britain’s homeless. In London alone, an estimate 9,000 sleep rough every night.
In a campaign dominated by Brexit and how to end three years of stalemate since the June 2016 election, Labour has been hamstrung by an ambiguous policy that wants to negotiate a third withdrawal agreement with Brussels that would keep Britain in the customs zone and closely aligned with the EU, and offer that to voters in another referendum where Leave would also be an option.