With the EU’s acceptance of a January 31st Brexit extension and a lack of majority under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Prime Minister was forced to abandon hope of getting his Brexit deal passed through the Commons.
Instead, Boris Johnson angled his efforts towards gaining that all-important majority by tabling a short bill to change the law and hold a general election on 12th December.
An opportunity for change or just more delay?
While both the Liberal Democrats and the SNP abstained from the vote after their preferred polling day of December 9th was turned down, the Labour Party finally backed the election date and declared it a “once-in-a-generation chance to transform the country.”
Yet, to those who have been waiting for over three years for the result of the 2016 referendum to be delivered, a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the country was already given and the outcome ignored due to disagreements and what Boris Johnson refers to as “a horror show of yet more dither and delay”.
If there’s one certainty in this chaotic web of politicking, it’s that the coming election won’t be an easy campaign on either side. With Farage’s party making no secret of its intention to challenge the Conservatives for every leave voting seat it can and Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson doubling down on her refusal to work with the Labour leader in the case of a hung parliament, pollsters and pundits have warned that this general election is the most unpredictable in decades.
At the heart of this early election – the third in the short space of four years – is Brexit, the issue that has plagued parliament and remains unresolved.
But to what extent will our EU exit dictate the result of the election?
According to Ipsos Mori’s regular monthly survey, Brexit has been by far and away voters’ biggest concern throughout the last 12 months. When given the chance to name one sole issue, Brexit nearly always came out top in the results.
In line with these findings, polls currently put the Conservatives well ahead in the race – but tactical voting could see the result turned on its head, particularly if the People’s Vote campaign has anything to do with it. Indeed, Labour has settled its Brexit policy: in the coming election, it hopes to stand out as the only party offering a chance to let the people decide.
However, even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn knows the large swathe of remainers in his own party and amongst its voters won’t be satisfied by this stance. As such, Labour’s strategy for the election will centre largely around domestic policy and renationalisation, side-stepping Brexit for fear of losing seats to Jo Swinson’s transparent hard-remain campaign.
So, what happens next?
In a statement outside No 10 marking the start of his campaign, Mr Johnson said if returned to power, he would end the “paralysis” in Parliament and take the UK out of the EU in January – a position that’s hard to refute. But with each new day comes fresh scandal, be it the resignation of Alun Cairns following the sabotage of a rape trial by his former aide or the comments made by Jacob-Rees Mogg on the victims of Grenfell Tower.
It is worth mentioning that for Boris Johnson, an absolute majority in the Commons is the only victory that can end the deadlock, since there is no alliance he can build for his deal. Victory for the other parties may simply mean denying him the ability to pass his deal by preventing a majority.
At this stage, it would be foolish to predict the result; just as it would be to assume that the UK will ever leave the EU – but we can say with certainty that the road ahead is long, and even with an exit date of January 31st, the withdrawal agreement is only the first step.
Moving forward, our future relationship with the EU will take time to establish – in 11 months, no less, unless the transition period is extended, which experts consider inevitable. No matter the outcome of the general election, it’s clear we’re in this for the long-haul. As much as the Labour party may wish to turn attention away from the Brexit debate, it’s unlikely we will see the back of this political and economic whirlwind for a while to come.