The European Union has announced that it has agreed to the British request for an extension to the Brexit deadline. Instead of leaving on 31st October 2019, the UK will now remain in the European Union until at least the end of January 2020. A three-month extension provides some reprieve but, as is often the case, it’s unclear what, if anything, could change within that timeframe.
On 29th October, the House of Commons voted to hold a General Election on 12th December, with 438 votes in favour, and 20 votes against. UK law requires parliament to be dissolved at least 25 days before the date of an election, meaning that MPs will not be sitting after the 5th November. During this time, a rule called “purdah” kicks in, which means that public officials are not allowed to make announcements that could affect the outcome of the election.
Not the First Christmas Election
The unusual December election will be the first time the UK has had an election in the month of December since 1923. That election was held early, after Prime Minister Bonar Law fell ill in May 1922 and his predecessor decided he needed a mandate to continue to govern. This election did not deliver the result that Law’s replacement, Stanley Baldwin, had hoped for, instead ending in a hung parliament.
Although Baldwin’s Conservative party had the most seats, he was unable to get his King’s Speech approved by parliament and the first Labour government was formed instead.
Why Are We Having an Election?
Both major parties had been pushing for an election for some time.
After winning the Conservative Party leadership election in the summer, following Theresa May’s resignation, Boris Johnson wanted an election to help provide him with a fresh mandate from the public. Meanwhile, the Labour Party called for an election after Prime Minister May’s early exit.
Despite being in favour of a general election, opposition parties refused to vote for an early election until the European Union had granted a Brexit extension. With this now done, the election was approved.
If we have learned anything from British politics in the last 5 or so years, it’s that predictions or opinion polls can change in the last minute.
The 2017 General Election saw Theresa May’s government lose its majority in the House of Commons, despite opinion polls predicting a major victory for her before the election was called. Similar predictions were made ahead of the 2016 EU referendum and 2015 General Election.
Boris Johnson will no doubt hope to regain the Conservative majority in parliament, but the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Brexit Party and Labour all believe they can win more seats this time around.
The only prediction that we can be certain of is that not all of them will be proved right, since the election is a zero-sum game.
A few weeks ago, House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow announced that he would be stepping down on the 31st of October. Therefore, a new speaker needed to be elected by the house and a series of votes took place on 4th November. Former Deputy Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle was eventually selected by MPs. Foyle was elected on a promise to “continue to support backbench causes” with “humour and quiet words”, signaling a more sedate approach than Bercow.
What About Brexit?
Brexit will continue to be a very divisive subject, both throughout and after the General Election campaign. The main possible outcomes could be:
- The unilateral revocation of article 50
- A referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or remain – the People’s Vote campaign has been pressing for this, but there has not been enough support in parliament for it to happen. The election could make this more or less likely, depending on which MPs get elected.
- Approval of the negotiated deal – the deal that Boris Johnson agreed with the European Union in October could be approved by the new parliament, if there are enough MPs who support it. Like the People’s Vote, there were not enough MPs in support of the deal, but this may change in December.
- No deal Brexit – although the Brexit Party and some members of the Conservative Party have been pushing for a no deal Brexit, it remains unlikely because it is unpopular amongst MPs. While it may be possible after the election, Labour, LibDem, SNP and Plaid Cymru parties are all against it.
Predictions are difficult things to make in modern British politics. The outcome of the General Election could swing in many directions, with everything riding on the efficacy of party campaigns.
Tactical voting by supporters on either side of the Brexit debate may also play a role in deciding which way the British public votes. Instead, we will have to wait for Friday 13th December to find out what’s in store for the future of the country.