Why UK’s Brexit election is truly significant

Why UK’s Brexit election is truly significant

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigning at Jimmy Egan’s Boxing Academy in Manchester, England. (AP Photo)

Historically, most politicians are and have always been time-servers, living in an era that did not portend significant breaks with the past. But, every once in a while, an individual or an electoral moment emerges that substantially changes the course of a country.
In the US, the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 was one such event, as he changed the nature of both the American economy and, ultimately, the US’ place in the world. Likewise, for the UK, the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 realigned Britain in seminal ways that are still felt to this day.
The Brexit election of Dec. 12 is one such rare moment. A large reason for this is that Brexit is a binary policy project: One either leaves the EU or one does not. The December 2019 vote looks set to see the UK finally set sail for a very different future than the one it has hewed to for decades.
Polling numbers have become nightmarish for the opposition “Remainer” cause. A recent YouGov seat-by-seat analysis found the Conservatives ahead at 43 percent, with Labour well back at 32 percent. Practically this translates into a hefty overall Tory majority of 68 (with 359 Conservative seats and 211 for Labour), which would amount to its best general election result since Thatcher’s heyday in 1987.
Partly, this reflects the fact that the Boris Johnson campaign (ably directed by my old friend Dominic Cummings) has already won what amounts to the first of two actual election campaigns.
Johnson, in convincing the electorate that he wants to get on with Brexit, has squeezed the ultra-Leave Brexit Party of Nigel Farage, whose numbers are dwindling as disaffected Tories come home. Pushed into a corner, Farage (somewhat grumpily) went the next step, announcing his party would not stand any candidates in the 317 seats the Tories won at the last election, giving them a free run there in an effort to get Brexit done in the next Parliament.
While the Tories are conquering the Leave vote, Labour and the Liberal Democrats continue to bicker and block each other over the Remain vote, being unable and unwilling to form a tactical “Remainer alliance.” Labour and the Lib Dems remain divided both politically and ideologically, between those who want a softer Brexit (staying in a customs union with the EU even as the UK leaves) than Johnson is offering and those who want to cancel Brexit altogether. These irreconcilable differences are at the root of the Labour/Lib Dem schism, giving the prime minister an absolutely huge electoral advantage ahead of the December vote.
Beyond the political tactics, the Remainers — in allowing a trapped Johnson to call an election he was always likely to win — made one crucial error: They utterly misunderstood who the British public was likely to blame for the endless, enervating Brexit deadlock.

The Remainers utterly misunderstood who the British public was likely to blame for the endless, enervating Brexit deadlock.

Dr. John C. Hulsman

An important ComRes poll of early October underlined this. It found a whopping 83 percent of those respondents polled blamed the old obstreperous Parliament for the Brexit delay; 70 percent specifically blamed Remain MPs; and 63 percent pointed the finger at the European Commission. Last on the list, only 56 percent blamed the prime minister for the mess. Rather than crippling and undermining Johnson, in their endless blocking of Brexit, the Remainers, to a far greater extent, have earned the derision of the voting public. And that is why, more than anything else, Johnson is set to actually win the coming December Brexit election outright.
A definitive Johnson victory in the Brexit election would have profound policy implications for the UK. First, with a working majority, the UK looks set to finally leave the EU by the end of January 2020 deadline, along the lines of Johnson’s proposed deal. Such an outcome would enable Britain to be able to strike new free trade deals on its own outside the EU’s customs union.
Second, at last we get to the heart of the matter. Ignore the past few years of endless myopia about Brexit and the larger geo-economic and geopolitical questions swing into clear view. For the key as to whether Brexit amounts to a medium and long-term success is if, in the next few (three to five) years, the UK is able to nail down free trade deals with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US and India — all parts of the world growing at a far greater rate than a moribund EU.
If London can manage this, then in the long-term Brexit was worth it in policy terms. If not, then Brexit was a huge mistake. But this is the yardstick and parameter that companies and countries should focus on from here on out in determining Brexit’s efficacy.
What all of this means (and I’m delighted to say my firm has called all this correctly analytically for a long, long time) is that the December UK election is one of those rare electoral contests that actually will change the nature of the country in political risk terms. It is truly that important.

  • Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via www.chartwellspeakers.com.
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