By Campaign Agent Joe Monk
2018 was, without a doubt, a rollercoaster of a year. Many would argue that Brexit negotiations have progressed no further, more cabinet divisions have ensued, and Labour has failed to offer a strong alternative to the Conservative government. This begs the question- will 2019 be any better? Below are just some possibilities of what could happen.
Brexit will be delayed
Unfortunately for the 52% that wanted an exit from the EU, it seems very unlikely that the UK will withdraw its membership on the 29th March. May delayed the vote on the withdrawal deal in December due to the likelihood that she would lose. On the 15th January, the deal was voted down by a margin of 230 votes. Due to an amendment made by Dominic Grieve, the government have only three days to return to the House of Commons with a Plan B, with May saying we would be in ‘unchartered territory’. Interestingly, Yvette Cooper made an amendment to the finance bill which makes the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU ever more likely. The amendment means that if the government wanted to utilise powers within the finance bill to implement a no deal, it would be required to give parliament a vote or apply to extend article 50.
Theresa May will resign
It is very hard to see any possibility of May remaining in her premiership after the process of leaving has begun. In spite of her critics, her mission has been to steer the UK throughout the Brexit negotiations; in the words of Ken Clarke, she has been a `bloody difficult woman` in negotiations between Britain and the 27-EU member states. If she resigns, it will allow for new talent within the Conservative party to flourish and finally cast aside its current make-up that have, more or less, hung May out to dry. To reiterate, this is a possibility, not a certainty. Before the vote on the 15th January, the biggest government defeat came in 1924 with the Ramsay MacDonald Labour government losing by 124 votes. May lost by a whopping 230, yet her authority still remains intact. The defeat could, inadvertently, strengthen the hand of the government, with Arlene Foster commenting that the defeat allows the PM to go back to Brussels and show the EU member states that parliament are serious about ensuring the best possible deal for the country.
A General Election
If May does step down, this generates more impetus for a general election. In this event, whoever wins the Conservative leadership contest cannot rely solely on the mandate of their Conservative colleagues. Given that a general election would be likely to occur after the withdrawal, political parties would need to construct a new mandate for what they would do during this transition period. As it stands, Labour’s position on Brexit is complex. Senior figures within the party want to remain in the customs union in order to secure the jobs of the most disadvantaged, in addition to adopting six tests that the government will never be able to fulfil. The majority of the party membership want a second referendum, but the party leadership needs to take into consideration the fact that many Labour constituencies, most notably in the `left behind` northern areas, voted to leave. As the prospect of an election becomes more likely, the party needs to clarify their position imminently. Nonetheless, since losing the tabled motion of no confidence by 325-306 votes, Corbyn has insisted that he would not negotiate with the PM until a no deal was completely ruled out. Therefore, it seems that in the end, Labour will take note of the party membership in rallying for a second referendum if the calamities ensue.
A people’s vote
Without a general election, a second referendum looks increasingly likely. There are no limits to how many motions of no confidence can be tabled by the opposition, but the impetus for doing so is draining by the day. It is unlikely that proponents of a second referendum, such as the SNP and Lib Dems, will want to channel more energy intro trying to topple the government which has so far been steadfast. The defeat places more pressure on Corbyn to make it party policy that they will back a second referendum. During their party conference in October last year they vowed that, in the absence of a general election, a second referendum would be on the cards. The impetus for doing so came from the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer.
Populism will continue to rise
It seems very likely that the populism evident in Europe and the United States will continue indefinitely. Despite defusing the issue for now, the UK will be at risk of a far-right populist insurgence if Brexit is not delivered; we could see UKIP return in a different fashion than under Nigel Farage. Throughout Europe, it could be more sporadic. For example, Angela Merkel has announced her retirement and as such, has weakened her authority and the authority of the Christian Democrats. This could pave the way for right- wing populist opposition, Alternative for Germany, to make significant inroads. Even countries that have been seen as immune to populism have seen it rise. In the 2018 elections in Sweden we have witnessed the success of the right wing populist Sweden Democrats, with even the centre-right party considering forming a coalition with them. If Brexit turns out to be a relative success, this will only add fuel to the argument for national-populist adherents through Europe.
Accounting for the possibilities here, whether they occur or not, mainstream politicians need to take note. Populist figures such as Trump, Le Pen and Orban have been able to tap into the disillusionment of voters due to the dissatisfaction they have with the mainstream parties. Voters feel ignored and have been cast aside for some time. Despite the dark clouds many feel have descended upon them over recent times, even the eccentric Robert Peston said that things won’t be as bad as they seem. Granted, if the predictions do ensue it will be a nervy time for the West, but this could also pave the road for closer cooperation between politicians and voters. Hopefully, this will lead to a more prosperous and peaceful year ahead.
Sources and Further Reading
Rajeev Syal - `Brexit: May says vote on deal will go ahead as speculation mounts of delay`, The Guardian (6 January 2019)
BBC Staff - `Brexit: Theresa May’s deal is voted down in historic Commons defeat`, BBC (15 January 2019)
Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana - `Ken Clarke caught on camera ridiculing Conservative leadership candidates`, The Guardian (5 July 2016)
Matthew Goodwin - `No Bregrets: 10 predictions for 2019`, UnHerd (9 January 2019)
Rebecca Black - `Arlene Foster says UK Parliament right to reject Brexit deal`, The Irish News (20 January 2019)
Ian Forsyth - `Will there be a general election in 2019? `, The Week (10 January 2019)
Matt Foster - `Labour frontbencher urges Jeremy Corbyn to ‘show leadership’ and back a second Brexit referendum`, PoliticsHome (18 January 2019)
BBC Staff - `The moment May wins Corbyn’s no confidence vote`, BBC (16 January 2019)
Mattha Busby - `Starmer: Labour must keep open option of second referendum`, The Guardian (19th January, 2019)