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Open Europe's David Shiels looks at the positions of the main political parties on Brexit as the UK edges towards a General Election.
Although there is the potential for the campaign to take some unpredictable turns, Brexit is likely to be the major theme of this election in a way that it was not in 2017. Campaigners on both sides of the debate – Remainers and Leavers – will see it as their last chance to secure the outcome they want. Meanwhile, the positions of the main political parties have been clarified recently, and the campaign itself will demand that their Brexit message is explained clearly to the public.
Significantly, the Conservatives are going into the election as the pro-Brexit and pro-deal party. If Boris Johnson is returned with a majority, his Government will be in a strong position to ratify the revised Withdrawal Agreement. Many of the Conservative MPs associated with the anti-No Deal coalition in the present House of Commons will not be returning. Labour’s position is now also clearer than previously. If Jeremy Corbyn wins a majority, or if he can secure a confidence and supply arrangement with other parties, then his Government is likely to hold another referendum offering a choice between a soft Brexit or Remain. As with the Conservatives, Labour’s Brexit dissenters – namely their ‘pro-deal’ MPs in Leave seats – are also likely to be a diminished force after the election, with several of them retiring.
Positioning themselves as the ultra-Remain party, the Liberal Democrats pledge to revoke Article 50 if they win a majority, but in practice their position is to back a referendum in any other situation. The fact that the current opposition parties – including the Scottish National Party – have all coalesced around a referendum in some form means that this is the likely outcome of a hung Parliament. Some uncertainty may arise if the Conservatives fall just short of a majority and need the support of the Democratic Unionist Party again in order to form a Government. But one way or another, the election is likely to allow the country to move on to the next phase of the Brexit process.
While the election might offer some clarity on whether Brexit is happening or not, the campaign is unlikely to be a time for serious thinking about the many strategic and policy decisions the UK will have to make if Brexit proceeds. Open Europe will be continuing to produce research on a range of policy areas in preparation for all outcomes. In the meantime, our recent briefing on European Security Cooperation after Brexit is available here. Our explainer on the revised Withdrawal Agreement is here.
Finally, despite the chances of an imminent no-deal Brexit having reduced as a result of the revised deal, the possibility of No Deal has not yet been taken off the table completely: it remains the default form of exit on 31 January unless the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified. Our report on the consequences of a No Deal Brexit is available here.
1. Barnier: UK access to Single Market after Brexit will be “proportional” to EU rules
On Tuesday, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the Guardian that “Access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to the common rules,” adding, “The agreement we are ready to discuss is zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping.” Barnier also mentioned that it would not be possible to negotiate the entire future relationship in the 11 month transition period, unless the one-off extension provided for in the Withdrawal Agreements was agreed, but that a basic free trade agreement could be reached in this time. Asked about whether the transition period extension was inevitable, Barnier disagreed but said the UK would have to pay a “proportional” contribution to the EU budget to remain in the Single Market beyond the end of the transition.
2. Trump casts doubts on UK-US trade deal
US President Donald Trump has commented on the Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU. Speaking to Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage on LBC Radio, Trump said, “under certain aspects of the deal… you can’t trade.” He added, “We can’t make a trade deal with the UK because I think we can do many times the numbers that we’re doing right now and certainly much bigger numbers than you are doing under the European Union.” A Number 10 spokesperson has since said the deal “allows us to do trade deals with any country we chose – including the US.”
Commenting on the suggestion that the National Health Service would be impacted under a trade deal with the USA, Trump said, “It’s not for us to have anything to do with your health care system. No, we’re just talking about trade.” The President also told Farage that he and Johnson should “get together,” apparently suggesting that they should cooperate in the General Election.
3. Brexit Party to run in every seat unless Johnson drops Brexit deal
The Brexit Party will run in every seat in England, Scotland and Wales unless the Conservatives abandon the Withdrawal Agreement reached with the EU, party leader Nigel Farage said today. Speaking at the launch of the party’s campaign, Farage called for a “Leave alliance” with the Conservatives to secure a “clean break” Brexit, conditional on the Prime Minister abandoning the Brexit deal within two weeks. The offer was dismissed by senior Conservatives.
4. Dozens of MPs stand down ahead of General Election
A number of high profile MPs have announced this week that they are standing down and will not contest the upcoming General Election. On the Conservative side, they include the Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, as well as David Lidington, formerly the de facto deputy prime minister to Theresa May. Ex-Conservative MP and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd also announced this week she would not run. The retirees on the Labour side include Owen Smith, who challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016. In total, more than 50 MPs have so far announced that they are standing down.
Elsewhere, the former Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach, who lost the party whip after rebelling against a No Deal Brexit, announced yesterday that she would contest her seat for the Liberal Democrats at the upcoming election.
Open Europe’s Stephen Booth wrote for Conservative Home, arguing, “the first phase of Brexit might be the most fraught, but there will still be much to do in the next. May lost all momentum following her 2017 Brexit election; Johnson cannot afford to do the same whenever it comes.”
Pieter Cleppe told Slovenian daily DELO, “If the Tories have an absolute majority, they’ll pass the ‘Boris deal’. Otherwise, the Lib Dems are likely to force a second referendum though that may well result in Remain, if only because some Brexiteers may boycott it.” He also spoke to Forbes about the prospect of Western Balkan states joining the EU.
Anthony Egan spoke to Spanish daily La Razón about the politics of the Government’s General Election bid.