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'A powerful new mandate': What does the UK election mean for Brexit?

The majority for the Conservatives means that Brexit looks set to become a reality.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Dec 13th 2019, 10:25 AM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson says he now has a clear mandate “to get Brexit” done after a thumping victory in the UK General Election. 

As soon as the exit poll was announced, the scale of the victory for Johnson was clear. The Conservative leader had succeeded where his predecessor Theresa May had failed and won a majority for his party to legislate for Brexit. 

The majority for the Conservatives means that Brexit looks set to become a reality, with a vote on Johnson’s Withdrawal Deal possible this side of Christmas.

After months of paralysis in the European Parliament, EU leaders will likely welcome what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday said he hoped would be a “decisive” result in the UK election.

The Taoiseach said certainty was paramount “so we know where we’re going over the next few months”, adding that talks on a post-Brexit trade deal will be “crucial for Ireland”. 

So what does Johnson’s victory means for Brexit and what could happen next? 

‘Negotiations’ 

“We are ready for the next steps and we will see if it’s possible for the British parliament to accept the Withdrawal Agreement and take a decision,” European Council President Charles Michel said yesterday. 

Boris Johnson – charged with a clear mandate to “get Brexit done” – could now work to set the agenda for future trade negotiations with the EU. 

EU leaders, however, will likely resist attempts by the UK to lead that charge. 

Meanwhile, Johnson’s massive majority ensures that the confidence-and-supply arrangement negotiated between the DUP and Theresa May in 2017 is now unnecessary, erasing any real DUP influence over what happens next in Brexit. 

Not that this reality has destroyed all traces of optimism. Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesperson, suggested that Johnson may still find himself needing DUP support in the months to come.

Assuming the British Parliament will sit in early January following its Christmas recess, MPs will have just weeks to pass legislation to meet the 31 January deadline, set by the EU following an extension in October. 

Once Parliament ratifies legislation in both the Commons and the House of Lords, the European Parliament will ratify the deal on the EU side paving the way for the UK to leave by the end of January. 

If that happens, the planned “transition period” for the UK’s exit kicks in. 

Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement contains a hard deadline of 31 December 2020 to secure a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. 

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier – among others – has said it’s unlikely a Trade Agreement could be achieved by then. 

If the deadline is not extended – possibly to late as December 2022 if both sides agree to extend – Britain faces a No-Deal Brexit on 1 January 2021 when the “transition period” ends. 

Assuming a Brexit deal is ratified in January 2020, it’s then over to the UK’s negotiating team to begin creating a trade deal with the EU – and other countries – forming the basis of its future relationship with Europe. 

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump congratulated Boris Johnson on his election victory today – adding the UK and US will be free to strike a “massive” new trade deal after Brexit that has the potential to be “far bigger and more lucrative” than any deal which could have been made with the European Union.

It’s worth noting the transition period means current trading arrangements between the UK and the EU will remain in place as the UK works out what kind of future relationship it wants. 

Of course, all of this is dependent on Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement being passed. Yet with a 76-seat Tory majority in the Commons it’s all but certain at this stage. 

Speaking this morning, the EU’s Michel congratulated Johnson on his election victory and said the EU expects a vote on Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement “as soon as possible”. 

“The EU is ready for the next phase,” said Michael. “We will negotiate a future trade deal which ensures a true level playing field.”

The EU will be watching closely for Johnson’s next move in the great game. 

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