British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally got his wish as Parliament waved through a law that will see the country go to the polls on Thursday, December 12. It will be the third General Election in four years.
The US will look on with interest as Conservative Party leader Johnson and his government are already said to be in discussions with President Trump and officials about a new trade deal, if and when the UK finally quits the European Union (EU).
Brexit, which has been rumbling on since 2016 when the country narrowly voted “out” in a Yes-No referendum, looks set to be the biggest issue of the forthcoming election campaign.
By a margin of 438 votes to 20, the House of Commons approved legislation paving the way for the first December election since 1923. Mr Johnson has said the public must be “given a choice” over the future of Brexit and the country.
He hopes the election will give him a fresh mandate for his Brexit deal and break the current Parliamentary deadlock, which has led to the UK’s exit being further delayed to 31 January.
Opposition and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in response: “This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country and take on the vested interests holding people back.” He added his party would “launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen”.
But some Labour MPs have expressed misgivings over the timing of the election, believing only another referendum can settle the Brexit question for good. A total of 127 Labour MPs, including Mr Corbyn, supported the election.
Mr Johnson told his Conservative Party colleagues it was time for the country to “come together to get Brexit done”. He stated: “It’ll be a tough election and we are going to do the best we can.”
The UK’s minority parties may have a big say in shaping the next Parliament, with a new Prime Minister set to be named on December 13th. The centrist Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) and the Scottish National Party (SNP) both see the election as a chance to ask voters whether Brexit should happen at all.
The pro-EU leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, has pitched herself as “the Liberal Democrat candidate for prime minister”. She adds: ”It is our best chance to elect a government to stop Brexit.”
For the SNP, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said an election was an opportunity for Scotland to hold another independence referendum. “The SNP is ready for an election. We stand ready to take the fight to the Tories, to bring down this undemocratic government, and give Scotland the chance to escape from Brexit and decide our own future,” she opined. “Scotland has been ignored and treated with contempt by Westminster, and this election is an opportunity to bring that to an end.”
The Scottish Conservatives claimed voting for their party would keep Scotland in the UK.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage welcomed the election, tweeting that the deadlock in Parliament had been broken and “Brexit now has a chance to succeed”.
If Mr Johnson’s party wins, it’s expected Brexit legislation can be completed by the beginning of 2020, allowing Britain to leave the EU and be free to set up trade deals outside the European bloc. Negotiations would also then begin with the EU on a new trading relationship with the UK.
However, estimates say a deal currently on the table – which Mr Johnson will use as the central plank of his election campaign – could leave the UK £70bn worse off than if it had remained in the EU.
A study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) concluded that growth would be 3.5% lower in 10 years’ time under the deal. The independent forecaster’s outlook is one of the first assessments of how the economy will fare under the new deal.
But the Treasury said it plans on a ‘more ambitious’ agreement with the EU than NIESR is basing its findings on. A spokesman said: “We are aiming to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which is more ambitious than the standard free trade deal that NIESR has based its findings on.”
NIESR said approval of the Prime Minister’s deal “would reduce the risk of a disorderly outcome, but eliminate the possibility of a closer trading relationship with the EU”. Despite the agreement between the EU and the UK removing uncertainty, customs and regulatory barriers would hinder goods and services trade with the continent leaving all regions of the United Kingdom worse off than they would be if the UK stayed in the EU, NIESR said.
“We estimate that, in the long run, the economy would be 3.5% smaller with the deal compared to continued EU membership,” it added.