Britain’s Conservatives Set for Big Majority

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The snap election was called to end the political deadlock over Brexit and it appears that Johnson’s election bet paid off: the results give him the major victory needed to push his Brexit deal through Parliament. But it’s not necessarily smooth sailing ahead for the United Kingdom after Johnson fulfills his pledge to “get Brexit done.”Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party has won a large majority in the House of Commons, taking 364 seats out of 650 with only one constituency remaining to declare its results—a gain of nearly 50 seats since 2017 and the party’s biggest majority since the era of Margaret Thatcher. The Labour Party won just 203 seats, losing nearly 60 since its strong showing two years ago.

Scotland and Westminster are on a collision course. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party won 48 out of 59 seats, taking seven of the 13 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has vowed to hold a second independence vote if Johnson seeks to drag Scotland out of the EU against its will. “Boris Johnson has a mandate to take England out of the EU but he must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future,” Sturgeon declared after the results came in. Johnson has indicated he won’t allow a second independence referendum, which could provoke a crisis for the union.

What went wrong for Labour? Labour has historically performed well in the old industrial and mining towns of northern England, the Midlands, and parts of Wales. On Thursday, Corbyn’s party was trounced as Tories broke through Labour’s so-called red wall in constituencies that in most cases voted heavily in 2016 to leave the EU. Tories won in long-held Labour seats such as Bishop Auckland, Bolsover, Redcar, and Workington—transforming the map of British politics and overturning longstanding pockets of reliable Labour support. In Burnley, it was the first Tory win in over a century.

Will Corbyn step down? The opposition Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, had campaigned on a more radical platform and a pledge to support a second referendum on Brexit. That is now off the table, and Corbyn has vowed not to lead the party in the next election campaign, though he has not yet formally resigned as leader. The simmering civil war between moderates and far-left Corbyn supporters has burst into the open with shouting and recriminations hurled on morning TV shows and in newspaper columns, blaming Corbyn for the party’s disastrous showing. The Guardian has already profiled his potential successors.

Is the Irish border problem solved? For the past two years, the Irish border has been a major sticking point in Brexit negotiations, largely because Theresa May’s government relied on the votes of 10 Democratic Unionist Party members of Parliament to maintain its narrow majority.  Although the Northern Irish party was initially supportive of Johnson, the DUP was unhappy with Johnson’s renegotiated Brexit deal, seeing it as a threat because it will lead to customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain in order to avoid them on the North’s border with the Republic of Ireland. On Thursday, the DUP lost two of its 10 seats. With a commanding majority in Parliament, Johnson no longer needs the DUP and can afford to ignore its demands.

What happened to the Liberal Democrats? Over the past year, as anti-Brexit MPs defected from the Conservatives and anti-Corbyn MPs left Labour, the centrist pro-EU Liberal Democrats appeared poised to gain. The party had a disappointing election night, winning a few seats near London and other progressive enclaves but losing elsewhere, including the seat of party leader Jo Swinson who lost by 149 votes to the SNP, prompting her to resign. The failure of pro-EU candidates to build alliances through tactical voting is one reason for the party’s failure.

In several seats, including Foreign Minister Dominic Raab’s, Lib Dem candidates could have won if there had been no Labour challenger; likewise, in some close races, like London’s Chingford and Woodford Green, Tories triumphed because Lib Dems deprived Labour of a few thousand key votes.

What does this mean for Brexit? The deadline for Britain to leave the European Union was extended to Jan. 31 before the election. With a large Conservative majority, Johnson will be able to pass his deal and then enter a transition period to renegotiate Britain’s relationship, including striking a trade agreement with the European Union—something Johnson has promised to do by the end of 2020. This will not be as easy as it sounds, argues Anand Menon in FP.



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