UK election won’t be dull, but can it solve Brexit?


AS IF the Brexit process hasn’t been fraught enough, the UK is now hurtling toward its third general election in four years, with its economy, political union and future relationship with Europe all in the balance.

A new vote could decisively shape the country’s future. Or it could resolve nothing at all. For voters, the choices aren’t obvious or enviable.

On one side will be the Conservative Party, which proposes to exit the European Union (EU) via the deal Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiated this month. It’s a bad deal, one that would likely weaken Britain’s economy, impede trade, harm businesses and possibly destabilise the union by creating divergent trade rules for Northern Ireland. But it would avoid the worst and feasibly offer a semblance of progress.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, by contrast, hopes to negotiate a new deal with the EU and subject it to a confirmatory referendum, while reserving the right to vote against the very deal it had just negotiated. This unwieldy plan might appeal to those who want to reverse Brexit. But it would be welded to perhaps the most radical and foolish economic agenda of any major political party in the Western world, premised on Corbyn’s antediluvian dialectics and general loathing of capitalism.

Then, there are the wild cards. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party could pull votes away from the Tories by promising a masochistic no-deal exit. The Liberal Democrats have been performing reasonably well in polls by pledging to simply revoke the Article 50 process that underpins Brexit, and thereby unilaterally end the whole show. Both main parties have their share of rebels and mavericks who could complicate matters unpredictably.

With these dynamics at play, a hung Parliament — with no majority, no resolution to Brexit, no direction home — is entirely possible.

Given the chaotic stalemate that has characterised British politics since the referendum, this might almost seem normal. But it would also prolong the uncertainty, deepen the animosity and in every way, make a bad situation worse.

Meanwhile, the main group supporting a second referendum — which even now remains the best way out of this mess — is having a highly public crack-up; EU leaders are increasingly angry and exasperated; and, in a metaphor a novelist might’ve rejected as overwrought, the Royal Mint is melting down thousands of commemorative coins that had been intended to celebrate Britain’s departure on Oct 31.

Perhaps this election will resolve the issue that has divided the country so bitterly. Perhaps not. Amid the chaos, though, one thing is clear: Britain’s politicians should take more care than they have of late to restore the possibility of good-faith disagreement and orderly democratic discourse.

Sadly, this can no longer be taken for granted. It makes the stakes in this election even higher than you might think. — Bloomberg

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.