What The General Election Could Mean For Brexit

If you care about when, how or if the UK leaves the EU, your vote matters - and here's why.

Just when you thought it was safe to drink mulled wine ... they’re back.

The same politicians who ruined most of 2019 with Brexit chaos are determined to wreck Christmas by calling a snap general election on December 12.

But before, in the name of your sanity/human rights/Strictly Come Dancing, you tune out completely, you should know just how important the election is for the future of Brexit.

If you care about when, how or if the UK leaves the EU, you should vote - and here’s why.

Some context ...

Brexit stands at a crossroads.

It won’t have escaped your notice that Leavers and Remainers have been at war since the 2016 referendum result.

Boris Johnson surprised everyone by agreeing a fresh withdrawal deal with Brussels earlier this month.

Reminder: this ‘stage one’ deal only sets out the terms on which the UK leaves, such as border checks, the divorce bill and length of the transition period, and does not sort out trade. The ‘stage two’ future relationship deal will be part of a different set of negotiations once a withdrawal deal is ratified by the UK and EU.

Johnson even managed to do what May couldn’t and got a majority of MPs to back legislation for a Brexit deal in parliament.

But then MPs ripped up his fast-track timetable for the bill, and fearing attempts to soften his deal or trigger a second referendum, Johnson has insisted on a snap general election.

Meanwhile, the EU has agreed to extend the October 31 Brexit deadline to January 31.

But now a general election is to happen, Brexit will be decided by whoever wins power. It is all to play for.

So, what happens if the Conservatives win?

Piroschka Van De Wouw / Reuters

The prime minister has been clear that he will campaign for his deal.

If the Tories win a majority then Johnson will have the means and mandate to take the UK out of the EU on the terms he has agreed with Brussels.

What does his deal include? The UK will leaving the customs union while Northern Ireland will stay aligned with single market regulations on goods.

The UK will also pay a £33bn divorce bill. Johnson has also agreed a “level playing field” commitment for trade talks, which will see Britain closely aligned to EU regulations with some freedom to diverge.

There will be a transition period until December 2020, when critics say the UK could again face a no-deal cliff-edge.

General Election
General Election

It is worth saying that Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit, maintaining that while he doesn’t want this outcome it is an option the UK must have.

His deal is also controversial for unionists, who point out the regulatory border in the Irish Sea separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Proposals for Northern Ireland to give its consent for the plan also involve a simple majority of votes of politicians in Stormont. This has angered some as the Good Friday Agreement, which secured peace in Northern Ireland after the Troubles, stipulates ‘cross-community’ consent from both nationalist and unionist politicians.

After withdrawal, Johnson will look to strike new trade deals, in particular with Donald Trump’s America.

And what about if Labour win?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
PA Wire/PA Images

If Jeremy Corbyn wins the keys to Number 10 Downing Street, it does not mean that Brexit does not happen but it does guarantee a second referendum.

Despite a large rump of Labour MPs and the party’s membership being pro-Remain, the policy is much more nuanced.

Corbyn would renegotiate a softer Brexit deal with the EU, claiming Johnson’s agreement puts manufacturing jobs at risk.

A Labour government would rule out no-deal. It would also seek customs union membership and a close UK relationship with the single market.

This deal would be put to the public in a second referendum versus remain. Labour has said it would legislate for that vote immediately, so it could mean a referendum within the space of a year.

Labour has not said whether it would campaign for the Brexit deal or for Remain.

Corbyn has been hostile to striking any trade deal with America, claiming Trump would aim to cut UK standards and target the NHS.

The Lib Dems could win, right?

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.
PA Wire/PA Images

Yes, it is possible and should Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats do win, Brexit would be cancelled altogether.

In a bid to sweep up Remain voters, Swinson has committed her party to revoking Article 50 and keeping Britain in the European Union.

So, to quote the party’s eyebrow-raising slogan, it would be “bollocks to Brexit”.

The Lib Dems would have to pull off an extraordinary turnaround in their party’s fortunes to secure a Commons majority, having just 19 out of 650 MPs.

But this may be “the Brexit election” when leaving the EU entirely dominates and really anything could happen.

What if the Brexit Party win?

Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage speaks during a Brexit Party event at the QEII Centre in London.
Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage speaks during a Brexit Party event at the QEII Centre in London.
PA Wire/PA Images

This is highly unlikely given they are a new party with no MPs but, anything could happen in these strange and wild political times.

If Nigel Farage’s party sweeps the country and wins power then a no-deal Brexit would happen when the Article 50 deadline expires on January 31 if not before.

A no-deal Brexit is pretty much Farage’s only policy.

And what about if nobody wins?

Stylized line person shrugging its shoulders indicating lack of knowledge, and care.
Stylized line person shrugging its shoulders indicating lack of knowledge, and care.
cundra via Getty Images

No one party winning a majority at the ballot box means the future of Brexit is unpredictable.

But, judging by the polls, this is one of the likely outcomes.

It means parties would probably go into negotiations over a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement.

During the election campaign, all party leaders will swear blind they will not do deals with any of their rivals. There is a good chance this will change after the votes are counted, however.

The Conservatives have gone into coalition with the Lib Dems in the past but given their Brexit policies are almost polar opposites it is difficult to see this alliance being rebuilt.

Johnson could, however, do a deal with the Brexit Party if Farage takes seats from them or Labour. A Leave alliance would likely mean a hard Brexit and that no-deal will not be off the table during trade talks.

Labour’s natural allies would be the SNP and Lib Dems, but both parties would want to reshape Corbyn’s Brexit policy.

Nicola Sturgeon’s price will be for the UK government to sanction a second referendum on Scottish independence and it is not clear if Swinson’s revoke Article 50 policy is a red line. Both the SNP and Lib Dems have been supportive of a second Brexit referendum in the past, however.

But there is no surefire way of knowing what trade-offs party leaders will make when negotiating a coalition.


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