A2 Global's Brexit Outlook: High-stakes early general election will determine the future direction of the UK’s EU withdrawal

A2 Global's Brexit Outlook: High-stakes early general election will determine the future direction of the UK’s EU withdrawal 

Recent Brexit developments

  • On 28 October, EU leaders granted the UK a Brexit ‘flextension’ until 31 January 2020. This delays the date the UK officially withdraws from the EU but also means it could leave earlier if British lawmakers vote in favour of the agreement brokered between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU.
  • A day later, lawmakers voted in favour of holding an early general election on 12 December in a bid to break the current deadlock in parliament.
  • Johnson’s agreement effectively caused a rare split between the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s largest political party – the Democratic Unionist Party – whose support was essential for the new deal.
  • The election’s outcome will largely determine the future direction of the UK’s planned withdrawal from the EU.



Analysis

  • While this election is largely driven by a desire to break the Brexit deadlock, parties have tried to shift the focus on domestic priorities in a bid to broaden their appeal among voters. 
  •  A lack of willingness by the main opposition parties to form an electoral pact underscores efforts to further their own political agendas by winning more seats in parliament. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have ruled out a pact, even though this tactic might backfire if the Conservative Party wins a majority and pushes through Brexit in parliament. The Liberal Democrats, Wales’ Plaid Cymru party, and the Green Party have launched a pro-EU alliance whereby some candidates will not stand for election in constituencies across England and Wales to bolster the chance that one representative of those parties will be elected. 
  •  For the pro-independence Scottish National Party, a successful election will provide stronger legitimacy for it to pursue a new referendum on independence. 
  •  According to the latest polls, 42 per cent of voters will vote for the Conservative Party, compared to 31 per cent for the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats are set to gain 15 per cent of votes, while the Brexit Party is forecast to win 5 per cent. 
  •  This is a clear indication that Johnson’s rhetoric and core message of ‘Get Brexit done’ to focus on domestic priorities such as tackling crime and improving living standards is resonating with voters, increasing the likelihood of the Conservative Party winning a majority. 
  •  However, certain key events such as the publication of each party’s manifesto and debates between Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Johnson, the first of which was held on 19 November, could prove election-defining moments that can the shift the current dynamic against the Conservative Party. While the consensus is that neither of the two leaders ‘won’ the first debate, the event underscored vulnerabilities facing both campaigns – for Labour on Brexit and the Conservatives on the NHS. A second debate is scheduled on 6 December, while a debate featuring senior figures from all major parties will be held on 29 November.


Outlook

  • At present, the Conservative Party looks set to win a comfortable majority in parliament. If this scenario materialises, the likelihood of a Brexit, based on the terms negotiated between Johnson and the EU, is almost certain.
  • However, voter sentiment towards each party will be tested during the next election debates and how the public responds to each party’s manifesto promises. Beyond general election polls, indications of voter support will be candidate opinion polls on the main leadership figures. Another possibly determining factor will be popular figures such as musicians and media personalities with significant followings on social media, who could also mobilise large numbers of voters in favour of a political party, as was the case in the 2017 general election.
  • Key battlegrounds will be marginal seats in areas that voted in favour of leaving the EU. The Conservative Party will aim to target voters in constituencies in northern parts of England who voted for Brexit and traditionally vote for the Labour Party.
  • While unlikely, a scenario of a hung parliament led by Jeremy Corbyn will prompt new negotiations with the EU to reach an agreement, likely meaning that the current 31 January Brexit deadline will be extended once more.


In the next issue (3 December): 

As the general election draws nearer, we take a closer look at possible outcomes and assess the latest polling results…