The day of Boris: On U.K. polls

The decisive victory the Conservative Party clinched in Thursday’s elections to Parliament gives British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who built his campaign around the promise to “get Brexit done”, a clear mandate to take the U.K. out of the European Union without further delay. Initial results show that his party is set to win 364 seats in the 650-member House of Commons, the greatest performance of the Conservatives in over three decades. The Labour, led by veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, is expected to win 203 seats, its worst performance in decades. It is Mr. Johnson’s victory. He is the one who called for an early election after reaching a new divorce deal with the EU. He turned the poll into a de facto Brexit referendum, arguing that only a stable Conservative government could take the U.K. out of the EU quickly and end the lingering political standoff. His strategy was to consolidate the pro-Brexit vote, get a fresh mandate in Parliament and then quicken the divorce process. The Labour Party, on the other side, has been ambivalent on the question of Brexit. Mr. Corbyn promised another referendum and declined to state what his position would be during that vote. His focus was on the economy. He promised a radical expansion of the state, with plans to tax the rich, increase public spending and nationalise utilities. The Labour leader may have hoped that his radical economic agenda would cut through the Brexit narrative. But it did not. In the end, Labour fought a Brexit election without articulating a clear position on Brexit. Unsurprisingly, it lost even its traditional working class districts in the Midlands and north of England that had overwhelmingly voted to leave in the 2016 referendum.

Mr. Johnson is now confident that he could push his withdrawal agreement through Parliament at the earliest so that Britain could leave the union before the January 31 deadline. But a big victory or a timely exit does not mean that the road ahead is smooth. His Brexit agreement itself is controversial; once implemented, it could erect an effective customs border between Britain and the island of Ireland. The question is what impact Mr. Johnson’s deal will have on the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland and to the unity of the Kingdom in general. Second, a more difficult part of the Brexit process is negotiating an agreement on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU. Mr. Johnson has promised to finish the negotiations during the 11-month transition period, but it could take years. Lastly, more than Brexit, the poll results pose administrative and constitutional challenges to the Prime Minister. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party’s landslide victory — it is poised to win 48 out of the 59 Westminster seats — has already rekindled calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence. This will put the SNP on a warpath with the Tories who are opposed to a new referendum. Mr. Johnson might go down in history as the Prime Minister who took the U.K. out of the EU. But at what cost is the question. The answer will be known in bits and pieces in the coming days.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 1:00:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-day-of-boris/article30300269.ece

Next Story