Katherine Butler: ‘This win allows Johnson to soften Brexit – for Ireland he should seize the chance’
There are no good Brexit outcomes for Ireland, north or south. This election was about degrees of damage. The UK’s formal rupture with the EU, which Boris Johnson can now declare in triumph by 31 January, is a travesty for Ireland; more destabilising than for any other EU country. Brexit will put Ireland and Northern Ireland on different sides of Europe’s external border. This uncoupling puts at risk the economic integration that underpins Ireland’s fragile peace, a peace made possible by simultaneous UK and Irish EU membership.
The size of Johnson’s thumping majority, though, is paradoxically the least worst outcome. His EU withdrawal deal (which can now clear the Commons easily) commits the UK to an orderly exit and removes the threat of a hard land border. The DUP’s baleful influence over the shape of Brexit is gone, their deputy leader Nigel Dodds humiliatingly lost his seat to Sinn Féin. No wonder Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of the tectonic plates shifting: for the first time Northern Ireland elected more nationalists than unionist MPs.
Johnson’s fudged withdrawal deal stores up future headaches though. A new Irish Sea border will have to be designed with checks on most goods shipped between Northern Ireland and Britain. For many unionists this is betrayal: an “economic united Ireland”, which – along with eventual Scottish independence – could hasten Sinn Féin’s dream of an end to Irish partition. And even if you welcome Irish unity, a botched form of it that leaves loyalists nursing a fresh historic grievance is a terrifying prospect.
EU membership helped secure the Good Friday agreement and allowed Ireland and the UK to become equal partners, sharing sovereignty around the European table. It helped to heal the pain of a 30-year conflict that claimed 3,500 lives. The Brexiteers’ reckless disregard for the consequences of their crusade is a cause of justifiable bafflement and sadness right across Ireland.
If Johnson cares a jot about Ireland he should pivot to the softest possible form of Brexit, to full UK access to the EU single market and customs union, even if he doesn’t call it that. He no longer has to listen to the ERG or the DUP.
The altered political landscape in Northern Ireland should also create a positive impetus for all parties to revive the devolved Stormont assembly, which disgracefully has not sat for nearly three years.
The search for a hopeful future from this mess begins perhaps with the knowledge that half of people in Northern Ireland no longer identify as either British or Irish.
• Katherine Butler is Guardian associate editor Europe
Maya Goodfellow: ‘Resistance is necessary, and sustaining the youth movement essential’
When the result of an election will mean bad things for so many, there’s no putting a gloss on it. There is no real celebration in loss, but it means resistance is necessary. And it’ll be young people at the forefront of that. The evidence we have suggests there’s a big generational divide. Put simply, working-age adults are more likely to have voted Labour, while retired people went Tory. The engine of the Labour party campaign was young people, flanked as ever by their older counterparts. They were out in the streets this election, enthusiastically advocating for public ownership, a green new deal, social housing and a fundamental rewiring of how our deeply unequal economy functions. Whatever happens next, one thing is sure: sustaining and building that movement will be essential.
Brexit has often been talked about as fundamental to the future of this country – how do we want our relationships with the EU to look, and what kind of country do we want to live in. But what has so often been eclipsed is the life-chances of millions of children in the UK that have will continue to be made worse in myriad ways by Conservative policies. Minute-by-minute dissections of Brexit will continue even as child poverty continues to rise, inequality grows and the climate crisis worsens. Based on recent history and the sharp rightward turn of the Conservative party under Johnson’s leadership, superficial change and meaningless soundbites are all that is likely in response.
Still, there are people all around us who will resist the oncoming onslaught. A few months ago, standing in the middle of Westminster, I was surrounded by some of the people who will be part of that change. Thousands upon thousands of 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds led the way protesting against the lack of action to fight the climate crisis. Cutting through the noise of UK politics to pinpoint this is the most pressing issue young people face. That is the future – one that can’t come soon enough.
• Maya Goodfellow is a writer and academic, and the author of Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats
Stephen Buranyi: ‘Tories ‘getting on with it’ doesn’t include climate action’
“Get Brexit sorted” has always been a fantasy. But even if this government could snap its fingers and magically unslip all our entanglements with Europe at the end of January, the Conservatives have made it very clear that their version of “getting on with it” doesn’t include climate action.
The party has always tried to have it both ways with climate policy. The Tories signed up en masse for the world-leading Climate Change Act 2008, which created a roadmap and targets for our future contributions but have consistently undermined, underfunded, or straight-up undone the actual policy commitments that would deliver them. The green development bank and the zero-carbon homes initiative were buried under Conservative watch.
This tendency degenerated further over the election campaign. The manifesto mentioned climate more than any previous election, but was lightweight compared to the monumental efforts promised by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. And Boris Johnson not only skipped the climate debates, he turned it into a circus by sending Michael Gove in his stead. The future of climate policy in this country will likely track with the general rightward shift of the Conservative party – as bad or worse than before, but with more show-stopping stunts. We are currently expected to surpass our next two carbon budgets, and the party has not indicated it has any policies that would get us back on track.
One thing we can be sure of: Johnson will deliver some kind of Brexit, and soon. That is the only mandate he asked for, and he got it. The UK has been a strong voice and leader on climate negotiation and action through the EU, and that is set to end. Much is still unclear around how the government plans to alter or replace climate policies and schemes that are currently synched up with the EU – this includes our Paris agreement commitments, which at the moment are part of the larger EU contribution.
Johnson’s vision of all future negotiations is one in which the UK is free to manoeuvre as it wishes, free of the slow, creaking, EU behemoth, and yet somehow still retain much of its power and heft. In climate negotiations, as with everything else, we were a powerful voice within a much more powerful bloc. It is not a good sign that, buried deep within the leaked UK-US trade documents that set off the furore about NHS privatisation during the campaign, was a bullying ultimatum from the American side: climate change would not be discussed or referenced in any future trade deal.
• Stephen Buranyi is a writer specialising in science and the environment
Tanja Bueltmann: ‘Immigration was a trump card Johnson played tragically well’
The Conservatives won their landslide in part by demonising EU citizens like me who chose to make the UK our home. Immigration was Johnson’s “trump card” in the final days, and he played it tragically well. This result is a devastating watershed for EU citizens. Something broke. My inbox has been flooded with messages of despair. Those who wrote feel sick, distraught and intensely worried about their future. As one said: “[I am] really struggling to see how I could possibly continue living here. By all accounts, a substantial majority voted for someone who thinks I shouldn’t feel at home in the UK.”
And so it is, as Boris Johnson was clear in saying that we have treated the UK like our own country for too long. All this after more than three years of life in limbo; after being called queue-jumpers and being forced to apply to stay; after being disenfranchised again and again. Our voices, our stories, irrelevant yet again.
But there is some nuance – EU citizens in Scotland frequently say they still feel welcome and supported.
At the very least, Johnson’s victory is likely to offer a degree of certainty that we have not known since 2016. Leaving the EU with a withdrawal agreement will provide some safeguards for the first time – although many questions about implementation and future developments remain.
And that will not salve the feeling of loss that hangs over us. It seems almost like a homelessness of the soul; a rapture in the love for this country that many of us have felt for decades. The EU referendum and all that has followed has transformed us from integrated neighbours, colleagues, friends and family to “others” who do not belong. How we are meant to come back from this?
Johnson has a duty to treat us with respect and to ensure rights are protected in the way he promised in 2016. As prime minister, he has a duty to represent all residents of the UK. That includes us. This is our home.
• Tanja Bueltmann is a professor of history at Northumbria University. She is an EU national whose work focuses on diaspora and migration history
Nesrine Malik: ‘This country will become one large hostile environment’
There is no solace, no silver lining, no “yes, but ... ” Today’s election result says many things about where the country is, most of them complicated and not reducible to simple binaries. Except, that is, when it comes to what it entails for minorities. As the implications of the vote begin to become clear over the next few days, months and years, we might find ourselves in a position where in hindsight, it wasn’t an augur of inevitable tragedy, that it said less about ideology, and more about the alchemy of this specific election.
But make no mistake. Right now the Conservative victory sends one clear message. Voters saw a party that has made ethno-nationalism, anti-immigration and Islamophobia its calling cards, and endorsed it. Dog-whistles that previously were heard on the streets will now become government policy. The country, already less safe for minorities and immigrants in general and Muslims in particular since the Brexit vote, will become one large hostile environment for anyone this rightwing government is happy to marginalise.
Those who voted Conservative at best looked away from the party’s racist policies, at worst demanded them. This is an uncomfortable fact that hangs over millions of voters, so it is understandable that many think the allegation is wild. But the truth is simply that the problem is so huge that the first response to it being pointed out is denial. There are now promises that must be delivered by a government that were simply xenophobia under the guise of a Brexit delivery. Ending freedom of movement, withdrawing rights from people who for too long “have treated this country like their own”, narrowing the definition of a British citizen. Tory Islamophobia, always at heart a proxy for dislike of a certain type of brown Briton, and a frustration with non-EU immigration as a whole, will thrive.
And then there is Boris Johnson, a man who from behind the masks of plain speaking one moment and jesting the next, will give sanction to the wounding ways in which we will address and attack each other. Letterboxes, bank robbers, piccaninnies with watermelon smiles and bum boys brace yourselves, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
• Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist and the author of We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent
Lesley Riddoch: ‘Johnson has reason to fear a second referendum’
No one saw this coming. Senior SNP politicians were hoping for a handful of extra seats. Nothing on the ground or in the media suggested the astonishing transformation of SNP fortunes that lay ahead, with swings from Labour and the Conservatives boosting the party’s tally from 35 to 48 seats. So, what happened?
It seems the half million Scots who voted yes in the 2014 independence referendum but failed to turn out to vote three years later in the general election decided to rejoin the flock. There were many motivating factors – the imminence of Brexit (Scotland voted 62% remain), the ascendancy of Boris Johnson, and Labour’s continuing collapse. But Nicola Sturgeon’s bold decision to put independence “front and centre” of the 2019 campaign, after taking it “off the table” during the snap election of 2017, is surely a factor too.
Critics said her #indyref2020 slogan would prove to be a gift for the Scottish Conservatives, whose Brexit and Johnson-free campaign north of the border focused solely on opposition to a second independence vote. The campaign was explicit – its rejection by Scottish voters equally so. The Scottish Tory MP contingent was halved.
Britain now has a tale of two mandates. Before Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon will seek some kind of Northern Ireland-style deal for remain-voting Scotland, and will ask Johnson to devolve referendum powers from Westminster to the Scottish parliament. There will be no “asking permission” but instead a search for agreement. Of course, the Tory leader has already said no. But he is a gambler and a realist.
Ruth Davidson was the darling of the Tory party. She has now quit party politics. Her 13 Scots MPs were a vital part of Theresa May’s slim majority. They are now irrelevant. Voting patterns in Scotland demonstrate an enduring and entrenched opposition to any type of Conservative government. Without the Scots, the Tories would have an inbuilt English majority. The opinion polls in Scotland don’t yet reveal a sizeable majority for independence. But that’s likely to change if Britain withdraws from the EU on 31 January and embarks on a turbulent and uncertain year of trade negotiations.
So, is there a strong electoral reason for Johnson to fear a second independence referendum in 2020?
• Lesley Riddoch is a writer, journalist, campaigner and broadcaster
Ifan Morgan Jones: ‘In Wales, the union’s tectonic plates are shifting too’
While the election results in Scotland and Northern Ireland tell a straightforward tale of unionist collapse, the picture in Wales was much more mixed. There was no nationalist surge, but neither did Wales entirely lose its electoral distinctiveness.
A north-south divide developed as the night went on. In the north of Wales the Conservatives seemed to sweep all before them, winning all but one Labour seat – Alyn and Deeside, which Labour kept hold of by only 213 votes. The Conservatives were far less successful in the south, however, only picking up Bridgend. They did not even come close in their target seats of Gower and Cardiff North, and fell short in Newport West too. Here, the Welsh Labour brand still had purchase.
Somewhat ironically for an election so focused on Westminster, perhaps we can look to devolution as part of the cause of this difference. Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University made the point on S4C in the small hours that Labour’s mishandling of the NHS in the north of Wales – where the health board is in special measures – could be the culprit. I would add to that a growing estrangement with the Welsh government in general, which is considered to favour the south of Wales over the north.
Despite not making any gains, members of the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru will be generally happy with their performance, as they had been sweating over two marginal seats, which they returned with much improved majorities this time. There is a general acceptance that they, like the SNP, will not be able to prove their relevance at a Westminster level until they are able to realign the debate around the question of Welsh independence.
On that count they feel that the wind is in their sails. Support for independence is on the rise in Wales, with a poll in September suggesting that as many as 31% were supportive, and marches attended by thousands in Cardiff, Caernarfon and Merthyr Tydfil. With Wales once again voting Labour but getting a Conservative government, and the tectonic plates of the union shifting in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it seems inevitable that this question will come to dominate Welsh politics: do we become, politically, EnglandandWales as the blue tide washes in? Or does Wales “take back control” from Westminster?
• Ifan Morgan Jones is a lecturer in journalism in Bangor University’s Department of Creative Studies and Media