In December, early parliamentary elections will be held in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made such a decision, despite the fact that he agreed with the European Commission to amend certain conditions of Brexit. The European Union agreed to postpone the release date until January 31, 2020.
Johnson's decision was supported by most members of the British parliament, including opposition from the Labor Party. However, early elections might not deal with the Gordian knot of the UK political crisis.
Payback for a failed promise
With the help of early elections, Johnson wants to test how much British society supports changes in the policy on the Brexit issue. Johnson was unable to fulfill his promise at all costs to get the UK out of the EU until October 31 this year.
This slogan was the cornerstone of his conservative leadership campaign with former Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt after the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. However, the British parliament refused to support the tough Brexit - exit from the EU without a transition agreement.
The British PM even accused the MPs of preventing them from fulfilling the will of the majority of citizens who voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum.
Not too successful were Johnson’s recent negotiations with ex-European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (he was replaced by Ursula von der Leyen from November 1). Despite the changes made, the draft agreement on leaving the EU is far from Johnson's expectations.
Initially, the British prime minister advocated the creation of a free trade zone between the UK and the EU after Brexit. As a result, most of the provisions of the agreement agreed by Juncker and May and which Johnson criticized remained unchanged.
The UK will have (until December 2020) to comply with EU rules and standards in the field of trade and social services, deduct contributions to the EU budget without participating in the work of supranational bodies, provide social security to citizens of European countries on its territory, pay 33 billion pounds Sterling in compensation for Brexit.
The only thing that was possible to agree on was a review of the most unpopular backstop condition in London for the Northern Ireland region of London.
Backstop provided for the temporary preservation of Northern Ireland in the EU customs union after Britain left the bloc and on an ongoing basis unless London and Brussels agree on another way to keep the Irish autonomy border with the state of Ireland open to the end of the transition period (participating in the European Union).
Under the new arrangements, the UK completely leaves the EU customs union after Brexit. However, checks will not be conducted on the state border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Fees will be levied only on goods imported into Northern Ireland from other British regions if there is a possibility of their further delivery to the EU.
Northern Ireland will continue to comply with trade rules and EU value-added tax laws. New amendments must be approved by the Parliament of Northern Ireland until 2024.
Most members of the British Parliament supported the amended version of the Brexit agreement but refrained from ratification in order to carefully study the document and make amendments until January 31, 2020. However, in British society, there is no unequivocal opinion on this matter.
According to a YouGov survey, 28% of respondents do not support the agreement. Only 22% support the document, and 34% of Britons are not at all aware of its details.
According to a Survation poll, 33% of Britons favor parliament ratifying the Brexit agreement, while 25% are against it.
Johnson needs early elections in order to influence the balance of power in the British Parliament and remove the Brexit agreement from the agenda. Johnson does not hide that he expects to form a one-party government.
He may also consider forming a coalition with the Brexit Party. Chairman of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farraj, believes that the draft agreement with the EU is not what the British want, and advocates tough Brexit.
PM is interested in reducing the influence of soft Brexit supporters within the Conservative Party, in getting rid of the coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which is in a more moderate position.
By and large, there is no urgent need for early parliamentary elections in the UK. Today, Johnson remains the most popular conservative. According to a survey by the British newspaper The Daily Mail, 42% of Britons support his activities as prime minister. The ratings of Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn (19%) and the head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Joanne Swinson (15%) are not comparable. Corbyn and Swinson advocate for a second Brexit referendum. Moreover, 51% of Britons fear that the left-wing politician Corbyn, who advocates more active state intervention in the economy, will become the next prime minister.
US President Donald Trump criticized Johnson's deal with the EU and emphasized that this would prevent the signing of a trade agreement with Britain. Johnson supports the creation of a free trade zone between the United States and Great Britain, as well as with the countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations as an alternative to the EU Common Market.
However, this is hindered by the transition period until the end of 2020. A tough Brexit would allow the British to immediately reduce duties for non-EU countries.
Trump is interested in earning extra points before the US presidential election in November 2020 and expanding access to American business in the British market. Jeremy Corbyn fears that in the free trade zone the UK will be flooded with American clinics and insurance companies, and the public health system will be privatized.
The cyclical nature of history
Boris Johnson’s political maneuvers resemble the actions of former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1923. After the parliamentary elections in Britain in 1922, the majority of seats in parliament went to the Conservative Party.
However, for health reasons, their leader and Prime Minister Bonar Law resigned. Chancellor of the Treasury Baldwin became the new leader and, accordingly, the prime minister. He decided to hold early parliamentary elections in December 1923, hoping to gain support from British society and strengthen his political authority.
As a result, the conservatives could not gain enough seats to form a majority. Labor leader Ramsey MacDonald formed the first coalition in the history of Great Britain with the participation of his political power and the Liberal Democratic Party and became the head of the government, which lasted ten months.
Johnson has spent less than four months in the prime minister's office and put his political career at stake. He is not safe from repeating Baldwin’s mistake. It is far from a fact that, following the results of early parliamentary elections, the Conservative Party will get enough seats in parliament to form a majority.
According to surveys, 36% of voters are ready to vote for conservatives, which is much less than in the previous parliamentary elections in 2017, when 42.4% of the British supported them. Two years ago, conservatives had to negotiate a coalition with the Northern Irish Unionists.
At best, Johnson will have to rely on a coalition with the Brexit Party, which is supported by 12% of the British. Less than 1% of voters are ready to vote for the Democratic Unionist Party. In the worst case, Johnson is waiting for a suspended parliament, where no party will gain enough seats to form a coalition.
Not surprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn supports the holding of early parliamentary elections. Like Ramsey MacDonald, he will explore the possibility of forming a coalition with the participation of the Labor Party, which is supported by 21% of voters, with opposition parties supporting the preservation of Britain in the EU: the Liberal Democratic Party (18%), the Green Party (6%) as well as with the Party of Wales, the Scottish National Party.
Voice of the people
More than half of Britons believe the decision to hold early parliamentary elections in December is true. However, British society is too divided over the exit from the EU. According to a YouGov survey, in the United Kingdom there are supporters of both hard Brexit (20%) and soft Brexit (23%), not to mention those who want to maintain EU membership (37%).
All these people vote for different political forces, ranging from the Conservative and Labor parties and ending with the political forces of the separatists. According to Farraj, about 5 million Labor voters voted to leave the EU in 2016.
In an extreme case, the British should hold a second referendum on leaving the EU to cut the Gordian knot of the political crisis. Only this time it is necessary to clearly formulate the questions: Brexit with an agreement, Brexit without an agreement, various options for EU membership - from maintaining the current state of affairs and ending with minimizing integration to participating in the Common Market without a political component or creating a free trade zone.