British politics in 2019: Groundhog year

As 2019 comes into focus, the entrenched fault lines of UK politics appear more prominent than ever

It’s that time of year again: commitments to resolutions and reinvention; promises to reduce negative sentiment and relish positivity; and a general feeling that, surely, 2019 will bring with it some relief from 2018’s woes. Politically, however, this appears far-fetched: shortly after being awarded a knighthood, John Redwood MP reaffirmed his opposition to the Government’s Brexit deal, stating that his “fundamental objections cannot be fixed by tweaks or reassurances”. Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his commitment to respecting the result of the Brexit referendum whilst research showed the Party membership overwhelmingly in support of a second referendum. Boris Johnson continues to lead polling amongst Conservative members on who would should be the party leader, and in a stark summation of 2019’s political uncertainty Ladbrokes now puts the odds of Theresa May being replaced at 1/2; a second referendum at 5/4; general election at 6/4; no deal Brexit at 3/1; and Corbyn being replaced as Labour leader at 2/1. As far as UK politics is concerned, plus ca change…

Government doubles down on the Brexit deal

Theresa May called for support for her Brexit deal in her New Year statement. Parliament is finally expected to vote on the deal on Tuesday 15th January. The preceding two weeks will be used to try secure assurances from EU leaders on the Irish border backstop. The European Council’s General Affairs meeting on Tuesday 8th January will be the date to watch for progress. There are significant doubts over what assurances, if any, the EU will be willing to provide, with various statements confirming that changes cannot be made to the Withdrawal Agreement itself. The level to which addendums to the deal will be able to convince Conservative opponents to the deal – a position which became gradually more entrenched in previous weeks – to fall in line remains to be seen. Navigating such Parliamentary arithmetic therefore remains a daunting prospect. Whilst the other options on the table such as the ‘Norway plus’ and so-called ‘Managed no deal’ models received significant airtime prior to Christmas, their own lack of support in Parliament, coupled with their inherent issues have seen them reduce in popularity.

With the official Brexit date of Friday 29th March fast approaching, timescales are tight for passing the required legislation through Parliament and if the deal falls in January it is difficult to envisage a scenario wherein the date is not extended in some way.

  • Do say: Didn’t we already do this in December?
  • Don’t say: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Labour struggles to square the Brexit circle

Brexit conflict isn’t solely reserved for the party of Government. Labour begins 2019 trying to marry various conflicting perspectives. Led by a long-term Eurosceptic but with 72% of the membership and 61% of 2017 Labour voters supporting a second referendum, the Party is struggling to promote a coherent strategy that will hold the broad coalition that brought it relative success at the last General Election. Whilst the Government’s own troubles have so far enabled Labour to hold an all-things-to-all-men strategy, the next few months will require Labour to make clear its position. It remains to be seen how the Party would position itself in the hypothetical election it so desires, or what steps it will take if it fails in its efforts to force such an election.

  • Do say: What actually is Labour’s position on Brexit?
  • Don’t say: Labour’s constructive ambiguity really appears to be working for them.

Domestic issues struggle to break through

Crises aside, there is little prospect of wider issues rising up the political agenda in 2019 as long as Brexit uncertainty remains. If the Brexit deal passes and we leave as planned, discussions will swiftly move onto our future relationship with the EU and the specifics of our future trade deals, both with the EU and the wider world. If we fail to come to an agreement that can pass through Parliament, we will either be dealing with the fall out of a no deal Brexit or in the limbo of an extended or revoked Article 50. And there remains the potential for support within Government and Parliament to swing behind a second referendum which would further entrench the Brexit debate through the establishment of renewed campaign organisations and sloganeering.

Labour will continue to attempt to focus on domestic economic and social justice issues in an attempt to move the debate onto more stable ground but this will achieve little cut through whilst the Party remains so conflicted on the overarching issue of Brexit. That said, debates over the cost of living, including the rail fare increases seen today; sluggish economic growth; access to justice; the health service; and regional economic disparities are likely to take place throughout the year.

  • Do say: There just doesn’t appear to be the bandwidth for domestic issues these days.
  • Don’t say: #FBPE #PeoplesVote #RemainAndReform #NowWeKnow

What to expect in 2019

So, what does 2019 have in store? As long as politicians refuse to compromise on their favoured position, the probability of a negotiated agreement continues to reduce and the probability of a no deal Brexit, second referendum or general election arguably increase. Therefore, 2019 holds the potential for any of the following outcomes: a negotiated Brexit; a no deal Brexit; no Brexit; a second Brexit referendum; a general election(s); a split in both or either the Conservative and Labour parties; a new Conservative or Labour leader; or a new Prime Minister.

Happy New Year!

Key dates in 2019

  • Tuesday 8th January: European Council meeting
  • Tuesday 15th January: UK Parliament vote on the Brexit deal
  • Monday 21st January: Deadline for meaningful vote on the Brexit deal (not legally binding)
  • February – March: European Parliament vote on the Brexit deal (if passed through UK)
  • Friday 29th March: Brexit day
  • Thursday 2nd May: Local elections: 270 English councils; six metro mayors; 11 Northern Ireland councils
  • Thursday 23rd – Sunday 26th May: European Parliament elections

In the news – Christmas roundup

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Euan Ryan

Senior Account Executive

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