Lloyd Rees, Eugene McQuaid and Victor Garcia Lopez look at the results of the UK General Election and what it could mean for the Brexit process.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has won a decisive victory in the UK General Election. The Conservative Party has secured a majority of 80 seats in the UK House of Commons. The result is at the upper end of expectations and gives Johnson a clear mandate.
We can expect Johnson to move quickly on his central election pledge to “Get Brexit Done”. We have commented before about how complicated the next phase could be (particularly on trade talks). Johnson should be able to get his Withdrawal Agreement approved by the UK House of Commons relatively easily with his majority (keep an eye on the House of Lords though, but with a clear mandate from this election, its hard to see them standing in the way of Johnson’s Bill). It will be interesting to see whether the version of the EU (Withdrawal) Agreement Bill (which implements the Withdrawal Agreement into UK law) which Johnson’s new government presents will be any different to the one which we have seen before – perhaps we can expect some of the trickier provisions such as on parliamentary oversight of the future relationship negotiations to be removed.
According to comments made by members of the Government, the Queen’s Speech is expected on Thursday and the early parliamentary stages of the EU (Withdrawal) Agreement Bill on Friday. Speaking to Conservative Party campaigners on Friday morning, Johnson said:
I have a message for everyone who voted for Brexit. You may only have lent us your vote, you may not be a natural Tory, and your hand may have quivered over the ballot paper, you may intend to return to Labour, I am humbled that you have put your trust in us. And I do not and will never take it for granted.
It is the irrefutable decision of the British people. I say respectfully that it is time to put a sock in the megaphone and give everyone some peace.
In the election your voice has been heard and about time too. I will get Brexit done by January 31 - no ifs, buts or maybes.
During the informal EU summit, which took place on Friday, EU27 leaders adopted a statement on Brexit. In their statement, they reiterated their commitment “to an orderly withdrawal on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement”, called for “its timely ratification and effective implementation” and reconfirmed their “desire to establish as close as possible a future relationship with the UK in line with the Political Declaration and […] based on a balance of rights and obligations and [ensuring] a level playing field.”
EU27 leaders then invited the Commission “to submit to the Council a draft comprehensive mandate for a future relationship with the UK immediately after its withdrawal” and welcomed the fact that the negotiations will be led by EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Barnier.
EU27 leaders also emphasised that the negotiations should “continue to take place in a coherent manner and in unity and transparency with all Member States”, adding that they will “provide further guidance as necessary fully consistent with the EU’s best interest and with the aim of reaching a result that is fair and equitable for all Member States and in the interest of our citizens.”
During the press conference that followed the summit, Council President Michel emphasised that “the level playing field is a very important goal for us” and Commission President von der Leyen said, “The time is very short, we have 11 months to negotiate a broad field […] we will put a specific focus on those issues where there is an economic cliff-edge at the end of 2020 if they would not be done. These are issues where we have neither an international framework to fall back on nor the possibility to take unilateral contingency measures covering the period after the 1 January 2021. There will be sequencing, there will be an emphasis on a certain ranking. This is being developed right now.” European Parliament lead Brexit negotiator Verhofstadt also tweeted, “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.”
US President Donald Trump also welcomed the result and hinted it could pave the way to a UK-US trade deal, tweeting: “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN! Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!”
It now seems all but certain that the UK will leave the EU by 31 January 2020. Attention now quickly turns to the next phase of the negotiations and several other big questions. With a large majority, will Boris Johnson feel he can adopt a softer Brexit? Will he feel like he can extend the transition period to extract a ‘better’ deal? Also, let’s not forget that the SNP made big gains in Scotland last week, so calls for a second independence referendum for Scotland are likely to intensify. 2020 looks to be a big year.