Brexit: Why an election may just continue the current stalemate – Ian Swanson

A general election could result in another hung parliament, just as divided over Brexit as the current crop of MPs, writes Ian Swanson.

Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 6:00 am
Boris Johnson wants to frame an election as parliament versus the people. Picture: AFP

Political canvassers could soon be competing with carol singers for the attention of Christmas shoppers in a December general election.

The prospect of manifestos mixing with the mistletoe and hustings being decked with holly may not fill many with enthusiasm. And there have been plenty warnings about the problem of Christmas fairs and nativity plays having to be cancelled so halls can be used as polling stations.

But politicians insist the difficulties with a festive season election can all be overcome. Since people are reluctant to answer their doors on dark nights, street-by-street campaigning will instead be focused at weekends or replaced by telephone canvassing.

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And there could be bonuses - perhaps Santa’s sleigh could be pressed into service taking people to vote on polling day.

Boris Johnson succeeded where Theresa May failed when MPs voted in favour of his Brexit deal last week. But despite his monotonous mantra about “getting Brexit done”, he then put the withdrawal legislation on hold because the Commons refused to accept his plan to rush it through in three days. Parliament has not discussed it since.

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But Mr Johnson wanted passing the Bill to be part of the deal for a December 12 election. The alternative path to an early election offered by the Lib Dems and the SNP proposes December 9 instead – allegedly because that would mean parliament must be dissolved this week and there would be no chance of the Brexit deal being passed in time.

People vs parliament

Both the Lib Dems and the SNP want an election as soon as possible because they expect to do well and they would lose a key part of their message if Brexit has already been delivered before voters go to the polls. For the SNP, there is also the attraction of having the election before former leader Alex Salmond goes on trial in January.

Labour are not so keen because the polls do not suggest they would do well – and they would probably have more success appealing to voters on non-Brexit issues like health, taxation, the cost of living, rail nationalisation and the environment rather than having to campaign on their own position on Brexit.

The EU’s decision to grant a further “flextension” up until January 31 – but leaving at the end of November or December if MPs approve Brexit by then – means Mr Johnson will miss his October 31 deadline.

But he hopes to escape the blame by presenting it as parliament stopping him from delivering the will of the people.

That people vs parliament theme can be expected to feature heavily in the forthcoming campaign.

Those in favour of an election say it is the only way to resolve the Brexit deadlock – but there is absolutely no guarantee it will do so.

Despite the Tories’ poll lead, if Brexit has not happened they will face a challenge to get a clear majority.

Mr Johnson will be attacked by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party for failing to deliver on his oft-repeated promise that the UK would leave the EU on October 31, do or die, come what may, no ifs, no buts.

The Tories are expected in any case to lose seats in Scotland and some Remain-voting areas in England.

And many fear the election outcome could be another hung parliament. All the effort of a December election could see many MPs lose their seats and plenty new faces but still not hand one party a clear majority, leaving the crucial Brexit issue in a never-ending stalemate.