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Monday, November 30, 2020

Can UK bear more of Brexit debate?

The Conservative Party has been deeply divided over the Brexit question, but right now Johnson is asking for a large vote ‘to get Brexit done’. He has negotiated a deal and he needs a comfortable majority to get it through the House of Commons.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: December 12, 2019 5:21:41 pm
brexit, brexit debate, UK elections, britain elections, boris johnson, latest news, indian express Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson  (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)

The British elections are just a few days away. As of now, it looks most likely that Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party will be returned with a majority. There are 650 seats, but for a majority, you can discount the Speaker and Deputy Speakers who do not vote, plus the Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland who never take their seats because they do not want to swear allegiance to the British monarchy.

Thus the effective number is 640 and majority is 320-plus. As of now, the Conservatives do not have a majority. In the last election called by Theresa May in April 2017, they got only 317 seats while the Labour Party got 265.

The next largest party is Scottish Nationalist Party which got 39 seats (out of 59 in Scotland). The Liberal Democratic Party, which is against Brexit, has about a dozen seats. The Conservative Party withdrew the Whip from 21 MPs but 10 of them have been readmitted. So there are 306 Conservative MPs.

Through its history, the UK has had two dominant parties. Once they were Liberals/Whigs and Conservatives/Tories. Then, in the 1920s, the Liberals collapsed and the Labour Party took its place. In the last 40 years, regional parties Scottish Nationalist, Welsh Nationalist (Plaid Cymru) have emerged. In Northern Ireland, there are Nationalists (Catholic), Unionist (Protestant) parties as well as one centrist party. But these account for fewer than a hundred out of 650 seats.

The two likely outcomes are the Conservatives getting an outright majority, say 340-350 seats, or a hung Parliament where once again the Conservatives fall short, say getting only 310. If the Labour repeat their score of 265 then they need partners, Scottish Nationalists for example, who can bring 50 seats. (No MPs will be taken to four-star hotels and locked up, nor would they defect to whoever offers them better terms. The British have failed to learn from Indians in coalition-making.)

Brexit is the central topic. The Conservative Party has been deeply divided over the question, but right now Johnson is asking for a large vote ‘to get Brexit done’. He has negotiated a deal and he needs a comfortable majority to get it through the House of Commons. Johnson’s gamble is that after two-and-a-half years of debate, voters are fed up with the Brexit issue and want it settled, whatever the deal.

The Liberal Democrats are a Remain Party but they are unlikely to get more than 40 seats. The Labour is divided as it has both Leave and Remain voting seats. They are seeking to win and, if they do, renegotiate a deal more friendly to the EU and have a second referendum to get it approved. The Labour wants to get the Remain voters as well as the Leave voters. But by the time the Labour has negotiated a new deal, a whole year may have passed.

There are so many different ways a deal can be made, that it is not at all certain how the second referendum will go. Can the British bear another year of debate and discussion?

In 2011, the UK passed a Fixed Term Parliament Act for five-year terms. Since 2015, there have been three elections. Johnson is the third Prime Minister in four years. Will he return?

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