I must admit to being very concerned about political happenings in the land of my birth. The latest development in the Brexit saga has led to further delays and the calling of an early general election for December 12th. As is the law in the UK, a bill to hold a general election has to receive ‘Royal Assent’, the largely ceremonial signature of the Queen, then once this happens, parliament is dismissed and campaigning begins.
Brexit pressures have led to turmoil in the pattern of general elections in the UK. When the fixed-term Parliament Act was passed in 2011 elections were supposed to take place every five years, “barring parliamentary vote”. This worked OK at first because five years elapsed between the 2010 election and then the 2015 election. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, the next election took place in 2017 - three years before it should have according to the Parliament Act. Calling that election was a misjudgement by the then Prime Minister Theresa May, who thought she would increase her Conservative party’s majority, thereby making the passing of a Brexit deal easier. Instead, the Conservatives actually lost their majority, and have been operating as a minority government since then. They are the biggest party but without holding over half the seats in Parliament, they must rely on agreements from some of the very small parties to get things done. Remember, there is no elected President in the UK, but a Prime Minister who is elected by the Members of Parliament. So, all this means that the British are now braced for another election next month, the third one in just five years.
Back to Brexit; Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously said the UK would leave Europe by 31 October “do or die”. He managed to negotiate a last-minute deal with the European Union in mid-October but the bill implementing it was put on hold by his enemies in Parliament, and he felt forced to call another general election to get clarity and a mandate from the British people. The EU has reluctantly agreed to yet another delay with a new deadline for Brexit of 31 January 2020. During the last few months there have been some British politicians demanding another referendum and the chance to reverse the UK’s historic vote of three years ago.
What happens with Brexit after the election on Dec. 12 will depend on how the British vote.
- One possibility is that the Conservatives are strengthened with a majority in Parliament. This would almost certainly lead to the implementation of the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU. A new version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would have to be introduced in the new Parliament, and the aim would be to get the bill completed in time for Brexit on 31 January.
- On the other hand, the opposition Labour Party (spelled with a ‘u’ in the English way) could win a majority. Labour have a number of socialist policies that would no doubt undermine business confidence, including the re-nationalization of major parts of the economy. As to Brexit, there is some disagreement within the Labour Party itself, but they would probably push for a second referendum. While some politicians argue this would confirm the last one, others argue that the will of the people has been ignored since the political elite didn’t like the outcome in 2016. This would at least require a further Brexit delay, but is largely unknown territory. How will the electorate react if a large number of people feel they have been ignored by politicians?
- A third possibility is a “Hung Parliament”, which in effect is what we have now: a minority government doing deals with smaller parties to stay in power, but with very limited “clout” to get things done clearly and effectively. That would probably lead to more of what we have had for the past couple of years.
If there is a second referendum, it might have the same legal status as the one in 2016. It would be advisory, and the government in power would have to decide how to respond once the result was known. On the other hand, an alternative would be to hold a so-called “confirmatory” referendum. That would specify the terms of a particular Brexit deal, and/or the possibly a “No-Deal” Brexit versus “Remain in Europe”. The result of this kind of referendum would be legally binding.
A “No-Deal Brexit” is the term being used for the UK leaving the EU without a deal or withdrawal agreement. This means the UK would immediately exit the customs union and single market - arrangements designed to make trade easier. Many politicians and businesses say this would damage the economy. Others say the risks are exaggerated.
The new government could also cancel Brexit altogether by revoking Article 50. which began the formal process of Britain’s withdrawal in March 2017. This is not something the current government is contemplating, so it’s only really possible to imagine this outcome if there is a change of government. There is a more information at www.bbc.co.uk.
Most of my friends and relatives in the UK just want to move forward and to begin the new reality - whatever that is. After more than three years of Brexit uncertainty and drama dominating politics and headlines, I feel the same….let’s get some clarity and move on!
I say goodbye this week with a quote about politics from the great 20th Century American actor, director, writer and producer Orson Welles. “Popularity should be no scale for the election of politicians. If it would depend on popularity, Donald Duck and The Muppets would take seats in the Senate.”
God Bless America and the United Kingdom!