Thursday, December 2, 2021

British Elections – Make Or Break For Brexit

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Britain has been on a roller coaster ride since the 23 June 2016 referendum that produced “Brexit”-the decision to leave the European Union (EU). That result has not only claimed two Prime Minister’s careers-David Cameron and Theresa May-but has pushed the UK to a cliff hanger of a political situation with even more economic uncertainty as it prepares to pull out of the EU. Theresa May’s repeated attempts to get Parliament to approve the deal negotiated with the EU for the Brexit was not approved by her Conservative party members resulting in her stepping down and Boris Johnson becoming the new leader of the party and the Prime Minister in July 2019. His attempts to secure the exit from British Parliament could not materialise by 31 October 2019. He got a 3 month extension from Brussels till January 2020. However, facing the heat in the British Parliament, Boris Johnson announced snap elections on 24 October 2019.

The United Kingdom’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) also took place in a dramatic manner. The creation of the EEC took place in 1957 and French President Charles de Gaulle refused the British application and it only joined in 1973. Since then, it had always opted out of certain common arrangements as the EEC transformed into the EU in 1992. Britain retained its currency and visa system, even as other countries went in for the common currency- the Euro and the Schengen common visa system. Such and other conditions, always created a rift between London and the other European capitals, reaching a point where domestic British politics had increasingly become confrontational over the EU in the last decade.

For a country known as the ‘mother’ of Parliamentary democracy with relatively stable governments and two party system made up of the Conservative and Labour Party, it has given way to the rise of other parties such as the Liberal Democrats, Brexit Party, Democratic Unionist Party and the UK Independence Party that have played the role of king maker or spoiler in the election if the two bigger parties did not secure a majority. In addition, the demand for Scottish independence has also contributed to the growing factors that make British politics extremely unpredictable as it had its 3rd general election in five years, sign of political instability and how the Brexit issue has divided the country, politics and the people.

Boris Johnson’s call for snap elections was a political gamble with high stakes to win a clear mandate from the people for Brexit. In the days following the election call, there was a bitter trading of words between him and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party. With a simple catchy slogan “Get Brexit Done”, the exit polls predict that the voters may have given a landslide mandate to the Conservative Party, but it does not mean that all negotiations with the EU will get completed on 31 January 2020. What lies ahead is a rather untested journey as the UK will have to negotiate every aspect of its relation with the Union. It is a personal victory for Johnson who has come from the back benches of the House to lead the party and now offer his version of the Brexit.

Earlier this the year, Boris Johnson had welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s victory in the May 2019 elections and stated that he “looked forward to an even closer partnership between UK and India in the coming years”. As Mr. Johnson navigates Brexit, the UK will have to look at building and renewing trade relations and this is where the partnership with India will be important. India will also look at strengthening legal migration and extension of visa benefits to students still going in large numbers to study in the UK. The potential for enhancing trade will also depend on the kind of deal that UK negotiates with the EU.

Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava,Jean Monnet Chair Professor & Head, Centre For European Studies

Jawaharlal Nehru University

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