The Implications of the UK’s Recent Elections
By Henry McCabe
The sun may have finally set on the British Empire in the form of a resounding victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. With a total of 365 seats in Parliament to Labour’s 203, including a gain of 47 seats, it appears that the people of the United Kingdom have given a mandate to Prime Minister Johnson to finally complete the Brexit process that began in 2016. Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) also walks away from the election seemingly with their own, vastly different mandate. Carrying 47 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies, the SNP holds a commanding majority of the Scottish seats in Westminster. Sturgeon believes that this vote gives her a mandate to push for a second independence referendum (indyref2), although Johnson’s Conservatives firmly reject this notion. In Northern Ireland, nationalist parties secured the majority of seats, with major losses for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The following are some of the biggest implications of the recent general elections.
Foremost of course is Brexit. Afterall, it is the issue that Johnson’s Conservatives made the election about. With the result of the election, the Conservatives were delivered a clear mandate to finally complete Brexit. While a second referendum will not be held, it is apparent that those who voted for Conservative MPs knew full well what the result would mean for Brexit. With a deal already negotiated and approved by the large Conservative majority, the UK is almost certain to leave the European Union by the January 31 deadline. Along with Brexit will come the complex process of the UK renegotiating its trade relationships with the EU, as well as its other trading partners. For the United States, this likely means the negotiation of a new free trade deal, which President Trump seems quite enthused to do, as indicated by his congratulatory tweet to Johnson: “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN! Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!”Such a trade deal may not be so easy though, as the UK is determined not to sign on to a one-sided trade deal that would give overwhelming benefits to the United States. Potential issues that
could impede a deal include food standards, as well as access of American pharmaceutical companies to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). And of course, any deal would have to pass the House of Representatives, a process that could take the signing of a new trade deal past America’s next elections, depending on how quickly a deal can be negotiated. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has yet to be approved by the Senate, after negotiations began two years ago. It is also unlikely that any new deal would have anywhere near the type of economic impact that Trump has suggested, due to the United States’ already extensive trade with the UK. As is often the case with President Trump, the world of Twitter makes everything seem easy, when in reality, the process is much more difficult.
With the election results, new questions have arisen over the future of the United Kingdom. The majority of seats in Parliament in both constituent countries are held by members of nationalist parties including the SNP, Sinn Féin, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). In Northern Ireland, while the Unionist DUP remains the single largest party, nationalist parties remain the majority. Questions of independence in the case of Scotland, and unification in the case of Northern Ireland naturally come up. In order to avoid a hard Irish border, Prime Minister Johnson’s Brexit deal effectively separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, and ties it closely to the EU economic zone with a border between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea. This was done in order to prevent a recurrence of The Troubles, a 30-year period of ethno-nationalist violence that plagued Northern Ireland from the late 1960’s to the 1990’s. Naturally Unionists are upset at this arrangement, as it effectively creates an economically united Ireland. Unionists feel betrayed by Johnson and his Conservatives, but this has not resulted in galvanizing support for the DUP. Instead seats have been won by the anti-Brexit nationalist parties Sinn Fein, and SDLP, with an additional seat won by the Alliance Party.
Calls for reunification are less clear for Northern Ireland than they are for independence in Scotland though. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP carried a divisive 47 of 59 Scottish seats in Westminster, which potentially indicates strong approval for indyref2. Sturgeon has already set about making her case, but Johnson has been vehement in his rejection of such a proposal. This sets Sturgeon and the nationalist SNP on a potential 5-year collision course with Johnson’s Conservatives. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland also saw continued support for remaining in the EU with the SNP, Sinn Fein, and SDLP all opposing Brexit. With England, and to some extent Wales, so diametrically opposed to Northern Ireland and Scotland, one must wonder how sustainable the United Kingdom is in its present form.
Many commentators have suggested that the massive victory for the UK Conservatives provides a warning for American Democrats. Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden has even suggested this, saying that Labour’s defeat shows that a Donald Trump clone is able to win as a result of Labour moving too far to the left. Reality is more complicated though. Yes, Labour’s platform was its most radical platform ever, including a four day work week and the nationalization of several industries, but this ignores the two main factors that many Labour supporters believed to be the cause of an election defeat: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit. In reality, these two causes are one in the same. Jeremy Corbyn had a net approval of -40%. Not a single Democratic candidate comes close to matching that level of unfavorability. Corbyn also ran Labour’s campaign on the basis of issues other than Brexit, including the NHS. Labour’s official position on Brexit, in an election that was essentially about Brexit, was unclear. Corbyn had to straddle the line between Labour’s Remain and Leave supporters, and in the end failed. The message is clear for Democrats. Stay on message about the issues that Americans care about such as health care, jobs, and climate change. Trump will certainly attempt to bait whoever the Democratic candidate is into making the election about some other issue. Democrats must not allow Trump to do what Johnson did with Brexit, and the clear solution to this is making sure that whoever is the candidate has a clear and consistent message.
Author: Henry McCabe is a freshman from Saratoga Springs, New York, currently studying International Affairs.
Note: The GW College Democrats News & Blog Committee’s mission is to highlight, empower, and facilitate the political expression of its members. As such, the views expressed in this article are based on the opinions of its author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the whole of GW College Democrats, its executive board, or its senior deputy board.