The Calm After Britain’s Brexit Election
If Boris Johnson wins the United Kingdom's upcoming vote, as expected, Brexit will go ahead and cause the country long-term damage. But for the next several years, almost nothing about the UK's relationship with the European Union is likely to change, because Johnson can – and almost certainly will – extend the transition period.
LONDON – With less than two weeks to go before the British election that will finally settle the question of European Union membership, anxiety is rising on both sides of the English Channel. With opinion polls pointing to a clear win for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, many financiers and media commentators have started worrying again about a chaotic no-deal Brexit. This would damage not only the United Kingdom, but also the rest of Europe, which exports almost twice as much to the UK as it does to China. Others still fear an electoral upset that could make Jeremy Corbyn, an unrepentant Marxist, prime minister in a Labour government bent on re-nationalizing industries, reviving the class warfare of the 1970s, and undermining NATO.
Both these anxieties are unjustified. The possibility of an EU-UK economic rupture of the kind that caused understandable anxiety when Johnson was elected Tory leader in the summer, has become negligible. And, in the unlikely event that Corbyn wins out, there is literally zero probability that any of the radical policies in the Labour manifesto will be implemented, because the only conceivable alternative to a Tory victory is another hung parliament, in which Labour falls far short of a majority and must rely on other parties to govern.
Moreover, this government would exist solely for the purpose of negotiating a new “soft” Brexit deal, similar to Norway’s membership of the European Economic Area, and then holding a referendum to endorse the new agreement or cancel Brexit altogether. Once this “final say” referendum was completed, another election would become inevitable, because there are no other Labour policies that other parties would support.
What about the election’s more likely outcome, that Johnson will win? The fears now are about a new kind of “no deal” crisis, stemming from concerns about the post-Brexit transition period, when the UK will retain the benefits and obligations of EU membership, but will be formally outside the EU.
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