Christmas came early for United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party as they have won the December 12 General Election – the Tories’ biggest victory in many years. It was the UK’s third general election since 2015 and the first December election since 1923.
With the UK due to leave the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020 after several delays, it would appear that this gives the Prime Minister the mandate he needs to finally fulfill the desires of those 52% of Britons who voted on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU. However, the only constant with the whole Brexit saga has been the unpredictability of this process which has claimed the premiership of two Prime Ministers thus far (David Cameron and Theresa May) and left the UK constantly seeking delays from the EU.
Polls leading up to the election, as well as a BBC exit poll, had accurately predicted a decisive win for the Conservatives, with a strong swing away from Labour. The Tories picked up seats in traditional Labour strongholds, including in the north, Midlands and Wales.
It should be remembered that lack of House of Commons support for her Brexit deal (even within her own party), particularly because of the controversial ‘backstop’ solution for the Irish border dilemma, led to the downfall of Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. Another reason was that the Conservatives had lost seats in the 2017 snap election she had called, and had no longer enjoyed an overall majority. However, with a clear majority now, it should be easier for Prime Minister Johnson – a Pro-Brexiteer – to get the House of Commons’ backing he needs to get his Brexit deal with the EU passed. Additionally, it also means that he should not be as dependent on the support of more extreme members of the Party who are not in favour of a close relationship with the EU post-Brexit.
While the Conservatives and Labour were the two major parties in the election, there were other parties such as the Liberal Democrats, the Brexit Party, UKIP, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP). One hiccup, however, is the additional support gained by the SNP and what this means for the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum. With 62% of Scots voting to remain in the 2016 referendum, Scotland was firmly in the remain camp. According to BBC reporting, SNP political leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon lauded her party’s strong performance in this election, noting that it sent a “very clear message” that PM Johnson lacks the mandate to take Scotland out of the EU. What may this mean for the continued unity of the United Kingdom?
In weeks to come, many pundits will be opining on what message the British electorate was sending by handing the Conservatives such a resounding victory – were they not confident in the alternatives to the Conservatives or did they simply want to hand the Conservatives a manageable majority so they could just get on with the business of delivering Brexit? For his part, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated he will not fight another election.
For the Caribbean, it should be recalled that regardless of what happens now between the UK and the EU, preferential trade between CARIFORUM countries and the UK should continue uninterrupted as the UK and CARIFORUM countries have agreed to roll over the provisions of the EU-CARIFORUM EPA (which covers trade between CARIFORUM and the current EU-28). The UK-CARIFORUM EPA, which was signed in March this year, will come into effect once the UK leaves the EU.
While all eyes have been focused on what the election result means for Brexit, it should not be forgotten that there were several core issues which also were part of the Tories’ campaign message. Immigration, which cannot be divorced from Brexit, was a big part of the Conservative platform. With Prime Minister Johnson promising to crackdown on immigration to the UK, it remains to be seen what this means for Caribbean nationals currently living in the UK or looking to emigrate there. The Windrush Scandal remains fresh in Caribbean minds.
The Brexit chapter may not have yet reached its conclusion and it remains to be seen whether this Conservative triumph at the polls will indeed be the clear path forward for the UK’s exit from the EU, or if other stumbling blocks, such as the whole Scottish issue, will come into play.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may be affiliated from time to time.
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