Brexit in the balance: A look at possible outcomes of the UK vote

A national election in Britain on Thursday will bring a new Parliament to power and could lead to a change at the top if Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party does not fare well with voters.

Although opinion polls have shown Johnson's Conservative Party in the lead ahead of the vote, surveys suggest its margin may be narrowing. British political leaders zig-zagged across the country on the eve of the election in a last-ditch effort to win over the millions of undecided voters who could determine the outcome of the vote. 

Here is a look at how various election outcomes are likely to affect the Brexit process.

  • Boris Johnson's Conservatives win a clear majority in Parliament 

If Johnson achieves his goal, the new Parliament is likely to move quickly to pass the Brexit withdrawal agreement the prime minister reached with European Union leaders.

Johnson has made sure that all of the Tory candidates in the running have backed his divorce deal, so a clear majority would give him a good shot at reaching his goal of taking Britain out of the EU by the latest Brexit deadline of January 31, 2020.

If that happens, little would change immediately since the agreement includes a transition period for the UK to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the bloc. Britain would continue to follow EU rules and regulations, and freedom of movement between EU nations would continue.

The next crunch time could come at the end of 2020. Johnson has said he would not extend trade talks past next December, indicating Britain would leave without a new trade agreement in place rather than continue the talks. But most experts think it will take longer than a year for the two sides to reach an accord.

UK election campaign enters final rounds with Brexit on the line

  • Boris Johnson's Conservatives fall short of an outright majority

An election that failed to deliver more than half the seats to the Conservatives would frustrate Johnson’s chief purpose in calling the election and cast Brexit in further doubt. He may be able to form a coalition with a smaller party that could give him the votes needed to pass his Brexit divorce bill, but it is also possible that a Labour-led coalition (with the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats) could form a government – most likely with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

If this happens, Corbyn would likely try to implement his party’s two-part Brexit plan: negotiating yet another withdrawal agreement with EU leaders within three months followed by a new Brexit referendum within six months. The British public would be asked if it prefers enacting the new deal to proceed with Brexit or stopping the Brexit process altogether by remaining part of the EU.  

> If Tories win UK elections, Johnson’s ‘preposterous’ Brexit plans threaten no-deal

  • Corbyn's Labour Party wins a clear majority in Parliament

Pollsters suggest that it is unlikely Labour will win a parliamentary majority. But if it did happen, Corbyn would have strong backing for his party’s Brexit road map. One potential problem is that leaders of other EU countries, weary of how Brexit has dragged on because of a long stalemate in British politics, have said they are unwilling to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement they already made with Johnson.

However, that could change if an entirely new government comes to power, especially since the prospect of Labour's promised new referendum creates the real possibility that the entire Brexit process could be scrapped.

> In polarised Canterbury, Labour hopes for another anti-Brexit student wave

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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