There is considerable confusion in the UK election about what each party’s position is on Brexit. Given this, I thought I’d sum up the policy of each party below:
The Conservatives under David Cameron called a referendum asking voters if they wished to remain in the European Union or not. Expecting voters to vote yes, no work was done by the Cameron administration of preparing for a leave vote. Leave won, Cameron resigned the next day.
Theresa May took over, claimed that Brexit means Brexit and promised to deliver it. She called an early election in 2017, expecting to increase her majority and instead lost it. Since June 2017 the Conservatives have relied on the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party for numbers in Parliament. May negotiated with Europe a withdrawal agreement – negotiations were tense. She eventually brought back the deal to Parliament, and it was defeated 3 times. A number of pro Brexit tory MPs including Boris Johnson voted against her. Eventually she tried to negotiate a compromise position with Labour on the withdrawal agreement to take back to the EU. The two parties couldn’t agree. In May 2019 EU elections were held, and Britain had to participate as it hadn’t yet left the EU. The Conservatives got 9% in that election. A few days later Theresa May resigned.
July 2019, Boris Johnson is elected leader of the Conservative Party and becomes Prime Minister. Boris initially sat on the fence, but eventually decided to campaign for Brexit thinking it would improve his chances of becoming leader. In 2016 his leadership ambitions were thwarted by Michael Gove, which I wrote about in an earlier blog, but succeeded 3 years later.
Boris as PM clearly shifts the Conservatives to be a Party of Brexit. Remain or moderate Conservative MPs are demoted from the cabinet. Later he kicks out MPs who vote for a bill in Parliament making no deal illegal. 21 Tory MPs lose the Conservative whip include former Chancellors of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke and Philip Hammond. Despite predictions from many including myself, Boris has brought back a deal. He even managed to get it to a second reading in Parliament. However close examination shows that this deal is very similar to the one May brought back a year ago, which Boris crossed the floor to oppose. The main difference is that the Irish Backstop would be in in the Irish Sea, not between Northern Ireland and the Republic. For the Democratic Unionist Party, this is the worst possible outcome as it potentially places a soft border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Thus in bringing back this deal, the Conservative alliance with the DUP is destroyed. So a general election is needed.
Election Policy: The Conservatives’ policy to to leave the EU with this proposed deal before the 31st of January 2020. They don’t want a second referendum. They are wanting this General Election to be a mandate for pushing through the deal.
Like the Conservatives, Labour members and supporters were completely split on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Labour supported holding the 2016 referendum and had a position of campaigning to remain. But MPs were split, and leader Jeremy Corbyn had prior to becoming leader been a Euro-sceptic. Many saw the EU’s support of austerity and free market policies as inconsistent with a progressive left wing policy platform.
Since remain lost in 2016 there have been a number of Labour MPs on the remain side who argued very loudly for a peoples vote, and in some cases for Article 50 to be withdrawn (the latter being a minority view, mostly held by MPs from the Blairite faction of the party). There have also been a number of Brexit Labour MPs, 19 of whom voted with Johnson on his latest Brexit withdraw bill.
In 2017 Labour like the Conservative Party had a policy of respecting the referendum result. Further their policy was to support negotiating a deal with the EU, but one which protected workers rights and jobs.
Since September 2019, Labour’s position has now been to support a second referendum. The party policy is to hold a referendum where voters have a choice of whatever new withdraw bill they negotiate or to remain in the EU. It is also highly likely that a deal negotiated would be similar to the relationship Norway has with the EU, where its not an EU member but is within the customs union. The fear of many in Labour, even former Euro-skeptics is that a no deal Brexit would force the UK to enter a trade deal with the US. Such a deal would risk privatisation of the NHS.
Outgoing deputy leader Tom Watson and others have been vocally outspoken against the way Corbyn has led the party through the Brexit debate. This was particularly so back when Labour and Conservatives were in talks to try and reach agreement on with a withdraw bill back in May 2019. Labour’s position on Brexit is now fairly clear, but they will need to explain it clearly during the election given earlier confusion.
Negotiate a new deal with the EU. Then hold a second referendum giving voters the choice of this deal or remaining in the EU. Most Labour MPs will campaign on this position, though a few may just go off and do their own thing.
The Liberal Democrats are a remain party. You could be forgiven for thinking they are a party that has been consistent throughout the Brexit debate (they haven’t). The Liberal Democrats have described Brexit as a national act of self harm.
Almost immediately after the 2016 referendum the Lib Dems were campaigning for a second referendum. The argument is that people didn’t understand what they were voting on the first time, so they hope a second referendum would put the matter to bed. Now that Labour, along with the SNP, The Greens and Plaid Cymru have joined calls for a second referendum, this is no longer the Lib Dems policy. The Liberal Democrats are saying if they win a majority in the House of Commons, they will repeal Article 50 and put a halt to Brexit. In effect their position is to ignore the referendum result. As already mentioned on this blog and as the Lib Dems are well aware, the First Past the Post electoral system means a party can win a majority in the commons without winning the majority of votes. Hypothetically the Lib Dems could get 35% in the December election, and if the votes fall in the right way in the right constituencies they could get a majority in the Commons. Would a government elected on 35%, or even 45% have the moral right to ignore a referendum result where 52% of the population voted to leave the EU?
The Lib Dems plan is to win the votes of the 15 million Brits who voted remain. Their electoral alliance with The Greens and Plaid Cymru is designed so not to split this remain vote and help give the Lib Dems the numbers to stop Brexit in its tracks. Will the 15 million who voted remain be swayed by this? Or will this ignore the referendum and stop Brexit position be viewed as arrogant and anti democratic, even by many remain voters?
Withdraw Article 50 and stop Brexit. Bollocks to Brexit and presumably the people who voted for it.
In 2014 Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in a referendum. Many of those who voted to keep Scotland in the UK were concerned that an independent Scotland would not automatically be allowed to join the EU.
In 2016 Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. In recent years the Scottish National Party have done very well both in Holyrood and Westminster elections.
The SNP position is that Scotland should become a seperate country from the rest of the UK. And this independent Scotland would join the EU. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, an independent Scotland would more likely be allowed to join (it would be political advantageous for the EU and its member states).
The SNP are strongly anti Brexit.
Second Brexit referendum. Second Scottish independence referendum.
I’ve already given the background to Nigel Farage in an earlier post. The Brexit Party was created to fight in the 2019 EU elections. It got more votes than any other party in that election, but not an overall majority.
Pretty self explanatory, the Brexit Party want Brexit done. They don’t support the current deal proposed by the Conservative Party. They believe it gives the EU too much say.
Leave the EU. Don’t bother doing a deal just leave. Trump will look after us. And let’s not talk about the NHS.
Northern Ireland’s politics will be the topic of a future post. But needless to say there is a lot at stake for the region with Brexit. The DUP are the largest of the Unionist (pro Northern Ireland staying part of the UK) Parties. They are very socially conservative, very set in their ways and compromise is not a word in their vocabulary. The ideal people for Theresa May form an electoral pack with after the 2017 election.
Northern Ireland voted to Remain. The DUP have actively pushed for leave. They opposed May’s deal as they didn’t like the Northern Ireland backstop. They now oppose the deal brought back by Boris Johnson, which from their perspective is even worse.
The DUP are still the largest party in Northern Ireland, though Sinn Fein (main republican party supporting a united Ireland) are not far behind now. The DUP lost ground in the EU elections, and there are signs that even within the unionist community the DUP are losing support.
Under the Good Friday peace agreement there is suppose to be power sharing in NI between both unionist and republican parties. This broke down in 2017, and the DUP have been happy propping up a government in Westminster instead. Many fear what may happen in Northern Ireland if this isn’t resolved in a mature way.
Support Brexit. Want no special status for Northern Ireland. How you do this and not breach the Good Friday agreement, no one knows
Sinn Fein don’t take their seats in Parliament as they refuse to swear allegiance to The Queen. However they have announced that in this years elections they will be doing election deals with NI parties who support remain, and won’t stand in 3 constituencies. This will also screw over the DUP, something which will have much appeal to Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein support staying in the EU, not least because the Irish Republic is a member state.
Remain in the EU. United Ireland.
Plaid Cymru are the Welsh Nationalists. Nowhere near as big a movement as the Scottish Nationalists, but they do have seats at Westminster.
Wales voted to leave the EU in 2016, though the votes were much closer than in England. Plaid Cymru support remain, and have formed an electoral pact with the Lib Dems and The Greens. It is unclear what, if any, impact this will have on the election outcome.
Hold a second referendum, campaign for remain.
The Greens got their first MP elected to the House of Commons in 2010. Generally seen as a rival party on the left to Labour. In 2017 many Green voters supported Labour, and probably helped Labour win a few of the marginals they did.
Much of the Youth vote that Labour won in 2017 has at other times found a natural home with the Green Party. The Greens picked up a number of votes in the 2019 EU election.
The Greens have also joined the pact with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru. Many of their supporters will probably consider voting Labour as they did in 2017. Memories of the Lib Dems in office with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015 would make many Green Party supporters wary of this electoral pact.
Hold a second referendum, campaign for remain.