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Brexit Virtually Certain as Conservatives Sweep U.K. Election

A historic election in the U.K. has given the country’s Conservative Party a powerful majority in the British Parliament, allowing controversial Prime Minister Boris Johnson to essentially reshape British politics for years to come. Though the Labour Party had hoped that the recent election would remove Johnson from the position of Prime Minister, paving the way for a second referendum to potentially prevent the country’s departure from the European Union, voters decided overwhelmingly that Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was more fit to lead Britain.

Johnson, whose primary political message has been a promise to “get Brexit done” as quickly as possible, now faces little to no opposition as his power has just been augmented considerably. That being said, much of Britain’s future is now uncertain, as the negotiations involving the country’s departure from the European Union continue to be complicated and controversial. Experts are uncertain about the long-term ramifications of leaving the EU, though most economists project that the economic downturn already caused by the 2016 referendum, in which a slim majority of the country voted to leave the EU, will only worsen.

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Now, the country will almost certainly leave the European Union early next year, a polarizing move which is sure to delight half the country and frustrate the other half. For many living in the U.K., Brexit represents a rejection of liberal ideas in favor of conservative ones, as the decision to leave the E.U. is connected with anti-immigrant sentiment as well as nationalistic pride. Indeed, yesterday’s victory indicates how thoroughly this conservative sentiment has enraptured the British electorate, as the Conservative Party’s victory is the largest the country has seen since the victory that led to the election of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1987. The election represents a tremendous victory for Boris Johnson particularly because his tenure as Prime Minister has gotten off to a rocky start, characterized by several defeats in Parliament, as he was legally blocked from pursuing a no-deal Brexit and a deal he negotiated with the European Union was voted down in Parliament.

Now, however, Boris Johnson will be in power for five years, a period of time during which he has the power to make tremendous political changes to the country, with the historically consequential Brexit being the first order of business. The value of the pound skyrocketed after news of the election spread, reflecting a belief that the chaos that has for years defined British politics will soon subside and the country’s departure from the EU will be orderly and largely uncontested in Parliament, as Johnson’s power to negotiate terms of a Brexit deal in accordance with his wishes has expanded tremendously.

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That being said, Johnson still faces some opposition in Parliament. Specifically, the Scottish National Party, which gained more than a dozen seats in the election, stridently opposes Mr. Johnson’s desire to get Brexit done as quickly as possible, and the party may push for calls for a referendum on Scottish independence, which would allow Scotland to remain in the EU by breaking ties with England. Additionally, Mr. Johnson’s negotiations to leave the EU are likely to be influenced by the country’s working class, who are likely to focus on invigorating Britain’s manufacturing economy and protecting the economy from imports, a vision that contradicts the Prime Minister’s desires.

International observers have had a wide range of perspectives on the issue, with many analysts judging the country’s historic election, which will have ramifications around the world, as a sign of exhaustion and frustration with democracy in an information age that is saturated with political news of all ideologies and biases. With the vote to impeach President Trump being held today in the United States House of Representatives, one thing is for certain: the moment we are currently living in is a consequential and pivotal one in the history of global democracy, which faces unprecedented threats from multiple fronts.

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Britain and the E.U. Reach Tentative Brexit Deal

On Thursday, the European Union and Britain announced that they had reached an agreement for Brexit, just two weeks in advance of the October 31st deadline for departing the organization. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the multi-country alliance, the result of a 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority of British citizens voted to leave, has plunged the country into several years of chaos and intragovernmental conflict, as various parties within the country’s Parliament argued vehemently about how to conduct the extraordinarily complicated process of withdrawal. Tensions have only continued to escalate within the country’s government since they promised to implement the results of the referendum, eventually leading to the election of the highly controversial Boris Johnson to Prime Minister, who campaigned on a promise to “get Brexit done,” no matter what. 

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While all possible scenarios for Brexit are forecasted to have a strongly negative effect on the European economy, with the country’s decision to leave having already led to an economic downturn, the no-deal Brexit scenario is widely considered the worst possible outcome. As such, Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal, has raised alarms within the government and the passing of legislation requiring the Prime Minister to reach an agreement with the EU before leaving. With today’s news, a major hurdle for Boris Johnson has been overcome, though the deal is not official until it passes a vote in Parliament. As previous proposed deals have failed in spectacular fashion to receive a necessary majority vote from members of Parliament, leading to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Theresa May, the future of Brexit is by no means certain.

That being said, the new deal seeks to account for many of the complaints that members of Parliament had about Theresa May’s deal which led to its failure to get through Parliament. Under the revised deal, Northern Ireland will be a part of the U.K. customs territory, instead of being in a separate customs area from the rest of the country, which lawmakers cited as a reason for rejecting the previous deal. The new deal gives a degree of “democratic consent” to Northern Ireland, a part of the U.K. that voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, as the Northern Ireland assembly will be called to vote on whether to continue this arrangement in the future. 

As the potentially disastrous economic consequences of Brexit become more immediate, however, some U.K. lawmakers are instead calling for a second referendum to hopefully undo the decision to leave the E.U. The Labour party, which opposes the Conservative party led by Johnson, is expected to attempt to force another referendum, under the reasoning that having witnessed several years of governmental chaos has caused a majority of the country to favor staying in the European Union. Public opinion polling has shown that a plurality of U.K. citizens believe, in hindsight, that the decision to leave the E.U. was a mistake, and a second referendum could offer these citizens an opportunity to undo the chaotic results of the previous vote. 

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However, another referendum is unlikely to be conducted before a Parliament vote on whether to accept Johnson’s deal, which is due to be held on Saturday. Though it is difficult to predict the results of Saturday’s vote, members of the opposition party have already publicly criticized the new deal, calling it “a far worse deal than Theresa May’s deal” and raising concerns about its impact on workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protection. The U.K.’s membership in the E.U. has long been deeply integrated into the country’s system of government, and as such, concerns about withdrawal apply not only to the European economy but to the impact it could have on the rights and wellbeing of British citizens.