Britain Says Yes to Brexit—Again
Now it's up to Boris, to turn his quixotic campaign promises and voter aspirations into policy reality.
It’s been a rough morning for the British left, following the general election on Thursday. Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party dominated the field with 364 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, a very comfortable absolute majority. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gathered 203 seats, in what can only be described as a crushing defeat. The votes could not have been much more polarized, as the Tories saw their best election result since 1987, while Corbyn’s socialists got handed their worst score since 1935.
Unsurprisingly, this election focused on the question of Brexit. More than three years after the referendum in June 2016, the UK is still a full member of the European Union. Both Brexiteers and Remainers are fed up with the constant delay of the process. They want to move on to other big political questions, such as the construction of efficient telecom infrastructure, fair trade deals, and effective law enforcement that deals with the epidemic of burglary and knife crime. But first, Brexit.
With a comfortable majority, the Conservatives can now get back to arranging an orderly exit from the EU. They can get a deal that will assure mutual trade and cooperation, without being pressured by the EU’s stringent regulatory system. In Brussels, Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt recognized Thursday’s vote as a confirmation of Brexit:
Brexit will now happen. The British people have confirmed their referendum decision of 2016. The EU must now focus on building a new close, fair and lasting partnership with Britain. It is in our common interest.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 13, 2019
Boris Johnson will now need to decide whether he sticks to the compromise deal he’d carved out prior to the election or he negotiates a pure free trade deal with the European Union. The latter option seems very appealing given his majority, yet it would also reopen the risk of a no deal Brexit.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats had argued for a second referendum, as they believed Brexit could only have been achieved through disinformation and a perversion of the political system. Little did they know that the United Kingdom can indeed unite behind exiting the European Union, and that the democratic process benefits from considerably more trust than London elites are willing to admit.
I don’t happen to be that guy who wants to “melt the snowflakes,” but the left’s Twitter outrage the day after the election has been enjoyable to say the least. It still hasn’t occurred to these activists in their social media echo chambers that stigmatizing Brexit voters—who happen to be more than half of the electorate—by calling them bigots and uninformed will only increase their love for Boris. Johnson was an unapologetic campaigner for Britain’s exit from the European Union, and has made consistent efforts to implement the will of the electorate. The disgusting sneering of metropolitan elites turned him into a protest vote for many Brits who are fed up with the left’s tactics.
That said, Brexit wasn’t the only subject on the minds of UK voters. Jeremy Corbyn’s inability to address the blatant antisemitism within his party played an important role in the election. While in continental Europe, antisemitism is all too often excused, the Anglo-Saxon spirit of tolerance and resistance to both the far left and the far right has shown that supporting someone who considered Hezbollah and Hamas “friends” does not cut it in the UK.
Challenges lie ahead for Boris. With Labour obliterated and set for another tedious and nerve-racking leadership race, he does have political ground to work on. However, he’s also engaged in unsustainable social welfare promises, everything from deeper investment in Britain’s health care system to free hospital parking to extra child care support. With the economic uncertainty of Brexit, it’s the treasury that will soon decide whether those pledges can be fulfilled.
What’s really needed is more reform. Margaret Thatcher replaced a disastrous Labour leadership in the 1970s, and refined the country to the best of its potential. Fortunately, the Tories aren’t replacing a failed socialist government, but they are freeing the nation from political deadlock. However, that is no reason to get too comfortable: decades of EU rules have overburdened the UK with regulation that is hostile to banking, hostile to business, hostile to entrepreneurship, hostile to scientific innovation, and hostile to success. The House of Commons will have plenty to repeal. Adding to that, the past decades have seen the rise of an arrogant elite and entitled youth, neither of which can seem to grapple with a Conservative majority and its policies. As you see, the similarities to the United States are uncanny.
Boris needs to get Brexit done. One hopes that the big and beautiful trade deal that President Trump has promised Westminster will substantiate very soon, and go a long way towards realizing Boris’s agenda.
Most of what Boris’s impact constitutes is a feeling. It’s a feeling of hope in the United Kingdom, a feeling that there are courageous and dedicated statesmen out there who aren’t obsessed with appearing glamorous at EU galas, who aren’t craving approval from left-wing late-night hosts, who don’t need to be considered “woke” by a fringe Twitter bubble.
Fleshing that feeling out into real policy will be Boris’s biggest challenge.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Die Welt.