As the results of the UK’s 2019 election continue to come in, it appears Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a landslide victory. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that he will not lead his party in any future elections but will stay on during a period of reflection about what happened in this campaign. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has lost her seat. Experts react to the news.
First published in December 2019.
Paul James Cardwell, Professor of Law, University of Strathclyde
A Conservative majority is what Boris Johnson wanted in order to ensure that his Brexit deal passed the Commons. There is now little in principle to stop his deal passing.
Various EU leaders will also be relieved that a majority in the Commons will clear a path forward. The exit day of January 31, 2020 seems more certain that any of the previous “Brexit days” due to the lack of domestic political hurdles. However, as has been noted repeatedly during the campaign, this would not mark the end of Brexit as a process. The transition period is due only to last for 2020 and what follows from that is still unknown – the future relationship between the UK and the EU is highly uncertain.
The idea that the UK and the EU could negotiate an agreement on future relations is not beyond the realms of possibility in the short time-frame available – after all, Theresa May’s government managed to get the Withdrawal Agreement in place with the EU. But it is often presented in the UK as a matter of “free trade”. This sounds straightforward, but it is not.
Even in economic areas, the potential wrangling over goods, services, capital as well as other areas where the UK and EU might want to cooperate is fraught with difficultly. The state of Swiss-EU relations where negotiation and renegotiation is the norm shows that “get Brexit done” is a hollow sentiment. But having argued for it and got his wish, the prime minister will now have to own it.
Sean Kippin, Lecturer in Politics, University of Stirling
This election result shows the continuing political divergence between Scotland on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other. While the contest south of the border saw voters embracing culturally conservative politics and Brexit, the Scottish National Party’s moderate pro-independence progressivism seems to have been very successful in Scotland.
The roots of this result lie in two referendums: the 2014 independence referendum, which established the SNP as Scotland’s dominant force; and the 2016 EU referendum, which created a justified grievance that Scotland was being wrenched out of the EU against its will.
Where the Conservatives won 13 Scottish seats under Ruth Davidson as leader in 2017, the party seems to have been fulsomely rejected this time around. Boris Johnson concentrating the Tory campaign on Brexit and his seductive message to ‘get it done’ appears to have been decisive in England and Wales, but it may have been a turn off for many Scottish voters.
Discussion now will turn to Scotland’s constitutional future, and whether a newly emboldened Conservative government will feel sufficiently able to dig its heels in and resist Nicola Sturgeon’s calls for a second independence referendum. Scottish politics has been interesting since at least 2014, and it promises to remain so.
What happens next?
Helen Parr, Professor of History, School of Social, Global and Political Studies, Keele University
This Conservative majority will change the politics of Brexit. Boris Johnson will probably want to bring his withdrawal agreement to the House as soon as he can, perhaps in the first week parliament sits. It could be passed in principle before Christmas, with the technicalities to be debated in January, enabling Britain to leave the EU on January 31. There does not seem much doubt that the Conservative majority means Britain will exit its current relationship with the EU on that date.
After that, we do not know what will happen. We do not know what Boris Johnson’s plan will be, and we do not know how the opposition parties will react to the process of Brexit. Many people are speculating that a large majority will enable Johnson to soften Brexit, which would make a deal with the EU easier to get. Or possibly, it will mean he can extend the transition period – which would be permissible on the current terms for up to two years. But the fact remains that we do not know how Johnson will want to play it. Another possibility is that he might want to pursue a harder Brexit regardless. A large majority will probably mean he can secure agreement in parliament to whichever course of action he prefers.
Britain’s place in the world
Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Leeds
For a post-Brexit Britain, there will undoubtedly be some economic opportunities, but there is a cost. As Boris Johnson removes Britain from the EU, Britain is globally weakened in its economic and political might. To secure those all-important trade deals, Britain will have to decide what pay-offs it is willing to make. For all his bluster, Johnson may have to swallow some uncomfortable truths and some uncomfortable compromises. Whether he can sell those at home is another matter.
While no world leader would object to the British people selecting the government that they want, it’s unlikely that many will be thrilled to see him return to Downing Street. That being said, few would have welcomed Jeremy Corbyn with open arms either.
Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN! Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2019
The risk to Britain’s global position and reputation is not primarily the prime minister. The biggest risk is Britain’s global weakness and its desire to stand alone in the world.🔷
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