UK: 2 general elections, one referendum in 4 years


By Kuke Coffey

In the past four years, Britons have voted in two general elections and one national referendum. With another election on the cards for Dec. 12, the British people must be tired of going to the polls.
However, it is clear to just about everyone that there is no other choice but fresh elections to break the political deadlock in the House of Commons.
Ever since Boris Johnson became prime minister in July, the parliamentary arithmetic has made it impossible for him to get his new Brexit deal approved, much less push through any other meaningful legislation.
When he took over as prime minister, he inherited a minority government from his predecessor. The Conservative Party was propped up by a small regional party from Northern Ireland called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), giving him a tiny working majority.
Since then, the debate over Brexit has ripped the House of Commons apart. Johnson has lost the support of the DUP, suffered political defections and recently removed the party whip from 21 Tory MPs for failing to support the government during a crucial Brexit vote. As a consequence, Johnson cannot get most of his legislation passed and even holds the dubious record of being one of the most outvoted prime ministers in British history.
Johnson realized weeks ago that an election was the only end to the parliamentary gridlock, but calling for an election proved easier said than done thanks to something called the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2010.
Coalition governments in the UK are unusual, so when the Conservative Party in the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government in 2010 both parties were worried about the other stabbing them in the back by withdrawing support and causing a surprise election. To ease this fear, the act changed the rules to require a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons before a prime minister could call for an election.
In practice, the act meant that a prime minister no longer had the prerogative to dissolve Parliament and call an early election — often considered a hallmark of most parliamentary democracies. At the time, few could imagine the trouble this act would cause in the future.
Johnson tried three times in the past month to cross the two-thirds threshold and trigger an election, but failed because the opposition parties refused to support one — perhaps a first in British political history. Finally, earlier this week, on the fourth attempt, the House of Commons voted on and approved an election for Dec. 12.
This could be the most decisive general election in a generation and it will define Britain’s relations with the rest of the world for years to come.
The biggest impact resulting from the election will be the UK’s future relationship with the EU. In many ways, this election will serve as an indirect second referendum on the 2016 Brexit vote. Boris Johnson will campaign on a pledge that, if he wins a majority, he will immediately pass the recent withdraw agreement he got with the EU.
On the other hand, the opposition Labour Party has a convoluted EU policy of negotiating a “better deal” with Brussels and then having another referendum allowing voters to either choose that deal or remaining in the EU. This could easily drag on the Brexit process for several more years. And it is ironic that many of same people who are against Brexit because of the unpredictability it could cause for international investors and the economy are the some of the same people now calling for a policy that would bring more delay an confusion to the process.

The outcome of the upcoming election will also have an impact on the UK’s foreign policy. Boris Johnson has supported an idea of “global Britain,” promoting free trade and taking a global leadership role. But beyond the rhetoric of “global Britain,” a Johnson premiership would mean a continuation of the status quo with British foreign policy. This will mainly mean that the UK will continue to have a close relationship with the US, be an active member of NATO, be a power in the Middle East standing up against Iranian aggression and being firm with Russia.
Conversely, if Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next prime minister, Britain’s foreign policy is likely to undergo a radical shift. Corbyn, and those around him, are well known for their fondness, if not admiration, of the communist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. As for the Middle East, a Corbyn premiership does not bode well for regional security. He has invited members of Hamas and Hezbollah into the Houses of Parliament. He is quick to appear on Iran’s Press TV but he is unashamedly critical of important British partners in the Gulf region.
Make no mistake, whether it is at home or abroad, the outcome of the upcoming election will determine what kind of country the UK will be heading into the next decade. Perhaps most importantly, the election will finally bring some closure to the Brexit question after years of delay, stalling and dithering.
For Boris Johnson, this election will determine if his political grit and Brexit tenacity will pay off. For Corbyn, this election will be “do or die” with his role as Labour’s leader. After all, this will be his third election as leader and it seems impossible that the Labour Party’s rank and file will allow him to hang around after yet another defeat.
If we have learned anything over the past few years, it is that political polls are increasingly unreliable. There is a long way to go between now and the vote. But one thing is certain — the outcome of the election will be felt for many years to come at home and abroad.

The author Luke Coffey is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey. Article courtesy Arab News)