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Boris Johnson gets to gamble on election to fix Brexit crisis

Boris Johnson gets to gamble on election to fix Brexit crisis

by Bloomberg 3 min. 30.10.2019 From our online archive
PM wins backing of opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for a snap poll
Flags fly outside the Houses of Parliament in London on 29 October Photo: AFP
Flags fly outside the Houses of Parliament in London on 29 October Photo: AFP

The UK will hold an emergency election in six weeks' time, in a critical poll that could finally settle the question of Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won backing in Parliament to trigger the snap vote in an attempt to break the deadlock that has paralyzed the country's politics, weighed on its economy and left its citizens angry and divided.

The vote on 12 December will be the third time the UK has gone to the polls to choose a new government in four and-a-half-years. At a time of unprecedented political and constitutional upheaval, the outcome will be hard to predict.

The UK is still unable to complete its tortured divorce from the European Union, and Johnson has failed to get Parliament to ratify his withdrawal agreement. The election may now turn into a proxy referendum on Brexit, the last chance for voters to choose between politicians campaigning to stay in the EU or leave it immediately.

"There is only one way to get Brexit done in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism," Johnson told the House of Commons on Tuesday. "That is, Mr Speaker, to refresh this Parliament and give the people a choice."

Johnson versus Corbyn

The campaign will pit Johnson, the charismatic and controversial face of the pro-Brexit movement, against the radical left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who defied pundits and pollsters and nearly won power two years ago.

"This is a once in a generation chance to build a country for the many, not the few," Corbyn said on Twitter to announce Labour's support for the early poll. "It's time."

While Johnson is seeking to cash in on his fame and commitment to delivering on the 2016 vote to leave the EU, Corbyn offers a socialist alternative of raising taxes on the rich and nationalizing railways and utilities.

The two men will face each other in Parliament for a final time on Wednesday at noon, for prime minister's questions.

The last time the country went to the polls, in 2017, Labour and the Conservatives won more than 80% of the vote between them as the smaller parties faded away. This time, with Brexit still unresolved, both main parties face challenges from marginal movements that have grown in popularity.

No Brexit Camp

On the pro-EU side, the Liberal Democrats have surged in opinion polls and lower profile elections recently, on their platform of clear opposition to Brexit. That is a threat to Corbyn, in particular. Many of his supporters want him to adopt a clearer anti-Brexit stance.

For Johnson, the main peril comes from the veteran euro-skeptic Nigel Farage. He launched his Brexit Party in January to campaign for a clean, quick split from the EU. It then won popular vote in the European Parliament elections in May.

With Johnson having failed to deliver his core mission to complete Brexit by 31 October, the door is open to Farage to take votes away from the Conservatives.

On Monday, the EU agreed to postpone Brexit day until  31 January to give Johnson more time to persuade members of Parliament to ratify the deal he struck on 17 October. That gave Corbyn the justification he needed to back a poll.

"For the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met," Corbyn told his top team on Tuesday, according to a party statement. "We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen."

On Tuesday, Johnson won a vote in the House of Commons for a law enabling a 12 December election to take place. That law must be approved in the House of Lords before it comes into force, but it is now unlikely to be blocked.

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