The UK Election: A Decision on Brexit?

By Lea Schiller

The British polls opened at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 12th of December. Just 12 hours later, the first estimates gave the Conservatives an absolute majority. A few days afterwards, this result was confirmed. The United Kingdom had overwhelmingly voted in favour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party, granting them 365 seats out of 650. This made it the party’s biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third term in 1987. Meanwhile, the Labour Party lagged behind with 203 seats, which marks their biggest defeat since 1935. They lost many of their seats in traditional Labour constituencies in the North and the Midlands, and especially among the usually Labour-based working class, where many changed their vote to Conservative.

That Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech outside 10 Downing Street, saying the election results provide him with “an overwhelming mandate … to get Brexit done”. And while the distribution of seats in the Parliament certainly backs his claim, the distribution of votes tells another story entirely. In total, all parties who openly campaigned in favour of leaving the European Union combined only gained 47% of the votes while attaining 56% of seats. The Conservatives alone are right now in a position to go through with Brexit – but this is largely due to Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, in which only one Member of Parliament represents each area and therefore causes the votes for the other candidates to be irrelevant.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the results have been met with mixed feelings. Regret over the UK’s decision to leave is still prevailing, but as the President of the European Council expressed, the decisive vote promises clarity that is important for the next round of Brexit negotiations. Because even though Johnson is preparing to ratify the Brexit deal in January, this would only end the UK’s EU membership – and the more complicated step of negotiating a future trade deal still awaits. Johnson has promised to deliver this by the end of 2020, but in Brussels, few believe this is possible (Adler, 2019), even if the Prime Minister sticks to the Free Trade Agreement the EU is currently preparing to offer. And since this deal hinges on the UK agreeing to keep EU regulations, there are doubts on whether Johnson will consider this to be a good offer. For now, the direction the new government in London will choose is unclear.

And there is one other noteworthy outcome of this vote: in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 13 seats, granting them 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats. In 2016, Scotland voted in favour of remaining in the EU – ever since then, tensions have been rising between Edinburgh and London. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon described a possible independence referendum as having been “very much at the heart of the SNP’s campaign”, and after their success in the election, she believes she has the mandate to offer people a choice. Another independence referendum for Scotland might therefore be on the way.

Looking forward, Boris Johnson has set December of 2020 to finish all trade negotiations with the EU. If he cannot make this deadline, he will have to ask for another delay in the summer. And as long as no trade deal has been signed, Britain will remain in a transition state, in which it will still have adhere to EU law, even if by then it has legally terminated its membership. So even though the election has given the Conservatives a comfortable majority, complications and uncertainties are not yet out of the way and the Prime Minister will have to work to deliver Brexit in the time he promised to his voters.

Photo by Habib Ayoade on Unsplash

Resources

After election victory, Boris Johnson says ‘We are going to unite’. (2019, December 13). The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/13/world/europe/uk-election-brexit.html

Adler, K. (2019, December 13). UK general election: EU prepares for Brexit hardball. BBC News.Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50777995

UK results: Conservatives win majority (2019, December). BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2019/results/england

Curtice, J. (2019, December 13). General election 2019: What’s behind the Conservative victory? BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-2019-50774061

Watch Johnson’s first full speech as returning Prime Minister (2019, December 13). CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2019/12/13/boris-johnson-full-speech-downing-street-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/brexit-uk-politics-news/

Twenty Years After the Belfast Agreement

A Historical Review on the Troubles and Brexit Implication to Northern-Ireland’s Future

By André Francischetti Moreno

“I’ve seen cruelty and injustice at first hand; so, then one fateful morning I shook bold freedom’s hand; for right or wrong I’d try to free my land”

This excerpt, taken from The Wolfe Tones’ song Joe McDonnell, refers to a terrible period of British history. The Troubles were a conflict of great violence in Northern Ireland, in which an ethno-nationalist catholic minority fought against the British Army for civil rights and unification with the Republic of Ireland. However, the Irish nationalist feeling refers to the island’s cultural renaissance, in the beginning of the twentieth century. Conflicts between Catholics and the Protestant population of Ulster date back to 1916, peace has prevailed for several decades in Northern Ireland, established after Ireland’s independence recognition in 1922. However, 1960s economic decline and marginalisation of the Catholic minority revived old tensions. Furthermore, civil rights agitation from 1968 brought a violent response from the state and loyalists, culminating in severe rioting in August 1969. 

This spiral into violence caused the rise of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), and the deployment of British troops to the region. On 30 January 1972, 14 civil rights protestors were killed by the British Army in Derry on a day that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ It was not until 1994 that paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland, and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement of 1998, put an end in a violence wave which caused 3,500 deaths, of which 52% were civilians.

In 2016, after the UK voted to leave the European Union, new concerns arose as a non-deal Brexit would result in  a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. This meant limited and physically controlled crossing points. In order to avoid this outcome, in 2018, the then British Prime Minister Theresa May, proposed the Northern Ireland Protocol, also known as the Irish backsto). The protocol would keep the United Kingdom in the European Union Customs Union and Northern Ireland partially linked to the European Single Market, until a better solution was found. The Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed this provision, as it believes that it undermines the integrity of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly, the backstop was rejected three times by the Parliament and the inability of Mrs. May to conduct Brexit led to her resignation. 

This week, the European Union approved a new draft proposed by the British PM, Boris. Johnson. The main difference with previous proposals is that instead of having customs checks at the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, there would be checks in the UK itself, at ports along the Irish Sea and airports. In other words, products shipped to Northern Ireland, which are suspected to be furthered to Ireland would be taxed (VAT figures as the main consumption tax). In the case they are not effectively furthered, merchants would be indemnified. The next step to formalise this deal is the approval of the British Parliament. Nevertheless, DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds put out a joint statement laying out their concerns with the deal terms, “As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.” Moreover, DUP said: “These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union.”

What happens if the Parliament rejects the deal? According to the Ben Act, Mr. Johnson, who currently holds the minority in the Parliament, would have to request a three-month Brexit delay, unless he can get MPs to approve a no-deal exit by 19th October. While the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, does not rule out an extension, EU Commission President, Mr. Juncker, is more resistant. The British PM repeatedly stated that the UK must and will leave the European Union by the 31st of October, and appealed, “Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the UK and for the EU.” 

Twenty years after the entry into force of the Good Friday Agreement, another deal could define the future of Belfast and its relations with London. Now, it is up to the British Parliament and EU leaders not only to issue a careful decision, but to promote a peaceful and smooth transition to the more than 1.8 million Northern-Irish people who do not want a hard border on their island.

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Resources

1966 and all that: the 50th anniversary commemorations. (2013, April 17). Retrieved from https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/1966-and-all-that-the-50th-anniversary-commemorations/.

Brexit deal: What does it mean? (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50084090.

Brexit: EU and UK reach deal but DUP refuses support. (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50079385.

Campbell, J. (2019, January 23). No-deal Brexit ‘means hard border’ – European Commission. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46961982.

Daly, P. (2019, October 17). Brexit: DUP’s concerns with Boris Johnson’s deal – customs, consent and VAT. Retrieved from https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/brexit-dups-concerns-with-boris-johnsons-deal-customs-consent-and-vat-38604045.html.

History of The Northern Ireland Conflict. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-the-northern-ireland-conflict.

Weaver, M. (2019, October 17). DUP says it cannot support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/17/dup-boris-johnson-brexit-deal.

Exploring Brexit: an unprecedented story

Last Monday, EUSA and Juridische Faculteitsvereniging Grotius organized the lecture ‘Exploring Brexit: an unprecedented jouney‘ with two critically acclaimed speakers Felix Klos and Armin Cuyvers. Felix Klos argued Churchill’s view on Britain regarding the European Union, while Armin Cuyvers discussed about the legal consequences of Brexit and triggering Article 50.

The Event was terrific! We thank the speakers and everyone who attended!