A general election is a gamble for all parties - whatever the outcome, the Brexit crisis will continue
An election will not offer a conclusive answer to the Brexit question and there is a very real possibility that the UK will be left with another hung Parliament in which there is no clear mandate, no majority, and no consensus on the way forward, says Dods Monitoring's Laura Hutchinson.
It’s been over 1,200 days since the UK voted 52:48 to leave the European Union. 3 Prime Ministers, 3 delays and 4 exit deadlines later, and the UK remains within the European Union.
Brexit held the 2017 Parliament captive for 29 months, with MPs lurching from paralysis to crisis week by week.
MPs have now, by an overwhelming majority, voted to for a snap December election. However, an election will not offer a conclusive answer to the Brexit question and there is a very real possibility that the UK will be left with another hung Parliament in which there is no clear mandate, no majority, and no consensus on the way forward.
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The current state of play
Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned jubilant from Brussels. He had secured a new Brexit deal and it looked as though he could pass it through Parliament: the end was in sight and the UK was leaving on 31st October, he promised.
However, within a couple of days – on 19th October – he had written to the President of the European Council to request an extension to Article 50. This was, in part, due to an amendment passed on Parliament’s ‘Super Saturday’ sitting, which compelled the Prime Minister to request an extension in line with the Benn Act unless all necessary Brexit legislation had been passed.
Having reluctantly requested this extension, Johnson then sought to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, to meet his “do or die” pledge to leave on 31st October. However, his truncated timetable was rejected by MPs demanding adequate time for scrutiny of the landmark Bill.
Despite securing a majority for the Bill at second reading, Johnson decided to seek an early General Election rather than reintroduce the Bill. On his fourth attempt, he succeeded, prompting the first December election since 1923.
The official campaign is now underway, and each party is seeking a mandate for their Brexit proposals.
The best-case scenario for both main parties will still not deliver a solution to Brexit
If the Conservative Party win a majority then Boris Johnson intends to reintroduce his Withdrawal Agreement Bill on a fast-tracked timetable, with the confidence that it would have enough support to pass every stage unamended and the UK could exit the EU by 31st January 2020.
However, this would not conclude Brexit. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would then, having met its financial commitment to the EU, enter into a transition period with the EU which is set to end on 31st December 2020.
During this time a Conservative Government would seek to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. However, the idea that one could be achieved in 11 months is extremely ambitious. Even the quickest FTAs usually take a minimum of three years to complete.
There is provision for the transition period to be extended for up to 2 years, but Johnson has made clear during this campaign that his Government would not seek to do this. If no FTA had been agreed and ratified by 31st December 2020, and no extension to the transition period was agreed, then the UK would leave without a deal.
A Labour majority Government’s first act upon entering Parliament following the 2019 General Election would be to secure an extension from the EU and enter into intense negotiations to secure a customs union-based deal. This would then put back to the people in a referendum with Remain on the ballot.
Firstly, there is no guarantee that such a deal could be reached with the EU and the timeframe being suggested by Labour is very ambitious.
Secondly, any agreed Article 50 extension would need to account for the timeframe to hold a second referendum. Labour are suggesting such a vote can be held within 6 months. However, an Act of Parliament is required to hold a referendum and the 2015 Act, that introduced the 2016 referendum took seven months to pass through Parliament. Even if the 2015 Act was mirrored in order to speed up the process, the Electoral Commission still recommend that “legislation relating to the conduct of a referendum poll should be clear at least six months before polling day.”
The main parties may not obtain enough support to Govern in the event of a hung Parliament
When Theresa May lost her majority in the 2017 General Election, she turned to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop her Government up. However, Johnson has significantly damaged relations between his party and the DUP after agreeing to a number of concessions around Northern Ireland customs and the veto in order to secure his new Withdrawal Agreement.
Although the DUP did vote to support his Queens Speech recently, it remains very uncertain whether they would enter into a ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangement with Johnson’s Government. They certainly would not support his Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which would likely create further Parliamentary paralysis.
Labour would seek to operate a minority Government with the support from the smaller Remain parties in Parliament. However, the Liberal Democrats have categorically ruled out putting Jeremy Corbyn into No 10 and the SNP would likely only do so on the condition of Labour granting a second independence referendum next year.
All outcomes of a General Election present unique and significant challenges for all sides
On December 12th, we may very well return to the circumstances that led the country into this election: with another hung parliament where no party has a clear mandate, and there is no consensus on a way forward.
The outcome of a second referendum cannot be predicted, and both possible results will likely cause extreme political discontent.
Similarly, if Brexit is delivered, through the passing of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in an extension period, it is well worth noting that this only completes stage 1 of the Brexit process.
Whatever happens over the next month, those hoping the election can ‘Get Brexit Done’ will be undoubtedly disappointed.
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