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The general election is happening on December 12 and one issue is dominating all others – Brexit.
It is easy to understand why – Britain voted to leave the EU three-and-a-half years ago and it is far and away the most important issue for voters, according to the Ipsos MORI Issues Index. Sixty-five per cent of voters said it was the issue that mattered most to them – nearly double that of the NHS.
Indeed, this election is taking place predominantly because Parliament had reached a stalemate over Brexit - and now leaders on all sides are trying to convince voters that they can solve the conundrum.
Why there’s debate
There is clear water between the parties on how they plan to tackle Brexit.
The Tories have constantly vowed to deliver Brexit since the vote in June 2016, but former Prime Minister Theresa May failed three times to get MPs to back her deal, resulting in her resignation earlier this year.
The repeated mantra of her successor Boris Johnson throughout this election campaign has been that he will “get Brexit done”. Despite failing to hit the October 31 deadline (one he vowed he would rather “die in a ditch” than miss), Mr Johnson appears to have found a policy that resonates - if the Tories win, he will put his Withdrawal Agreement Bill back in front of MPs in a bid to secure an exit from the EU by January 31.
What about Labour? Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU within three months of the election, and hold a referendum on the deal vs Remain within six months. Crucially, Mr Corbyn has said he will remain neutral during any referendum campaign.
Critics of the Labour leader’s stance say his policy has not been received well by the public - indeed, following the recent TV debate, a snap poll showed Mr Johnson was seen by the viewers as giving the best performance with regards to Brexit, with 63% favouring his answers to just 27% preferring Corbyn on the issue. Mr Corbyn maintains remaining neutral will allow him to act as an “honest broker”.
The Lib Dems have perhaps the most striking policy - revoking Article 50 and thereby cancelling Brexit altogether.
The Brexit Party want a ‘clean break Brexit’ - meaning leaving the EU without a deal - but have stood down in more than 300 seats in the election to help the Tories secure a majority to keep Brexit on track.
The SNP have said Scotland must remain in the EU, the single market and customs union - this could be achieved either by negotiating a new deal with the EU (perhaps in a coalition with Labour) or by demanding a second independence referendum.
The challenge for Mr Corbyn is to convince voters that Brexit is not safe in the hands of Boris Johnson.
The problems facing Mr Johnson - which Mr Corbyn is trying to exploit - are two-fold. Firstly, the Conservative leader has insisted he doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit. However, he has also promised he can secure a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition arrangement - which is December 31, 2020. Many experts - and the EU itself- believe that is highly unlikely and if no deal is struck and Mr Johnson sticks to his word then Britain will crash out without a deal.
Mr Corbyn’s other tactic has been to insist
Whoever emerges victorious will still have a job convincing the public they can deliver what they’ve promised. A recent YouGov poll found that trust in MPs to deliver the right Brexit outcome is low, with just one in seven having faith in Parliament delivering BRexit
It is people, not MPs who we should trust to deliver Brexit.
“There are various models available, but the broad principle is that members of the public, selected to be representative of the country as a whole, take evidence on an issue and arrive at recommendations. The citizens themselves can have control over the process, including the vital decisions over who is invited to share expertise and give testimony. It is a deliberative mechanism with a proven record of finding common ground in polarised debates and nurturing civil engagement on matters that often provoke discord.” – The Guardian
Boris Johnson wants a legacy to his premiership.
“Boris has dreamt of becoming Prime Minister since childhood. People with his drive, ambition and positivity don’t switch off once they reach the top; they are determined to leave a legacy. I don’t believe Brexit in name only or vassal-statism is acceptable to Boris. He knows it will weaken him and risk humiliation at the next election.” – Lance Forman, Brexit Central
The Prime Minister simply cannot be trusted.
“The Prime Minister has shown time and again that he will say and do anything to increase and maintain his own power. Less than a year ago he said that "no British Conservative government could or should sign up" to an Irish Sea border. He lied about his reasons for proroguing parliament just last month. He has now casually thrown the DUP under a bus.” – Chaminda Jayanetti, politics.co.uk
Labour’s new deal would be negotiated by those who want to leave the EU.
“Labour’s ‘public vote on the deal’ is nothing more than a second referendum. With leading members of the shadow cabinet vowing to campaign against Labour’s own deal – including shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the very man who would be in charge of negotiations – what trust can the public have in Labour negotiating in good faith? It’s like a builder who advises a home-owner to knock down the extension he is due to build immediately after it has been built. This is Alice in Wonderland territory.” – Fawzi Ibrahim, Brexit Central
Labour will put their trust in voters.
“A Labour government would secure a sensible deal based on the terms we have long advocated, including a new customs union with the EU; a close single market relationship; and guarantees of workers’ rights and environmental protections. We would then put that to a public vote alongside remain. I will pledge to carry out whatever the people decide, as a Labour prime minister.” – Jeremy Corbyn, The Guardian
Not all Lib Dems voted for the ‘revoke Brexit’ policy.
“But is everybody happy? It is worth noting that all of the speeches against the proposal - which, by and large, were markedly better than those in favour - came from activists whose involvement with the party long predates 2016, those who feared such an unambiguous message would sit uneasily with voters in their Brexit-backing patches, and people who fell into both categories.” – Patrick Maguire, New Statesman
Remain supporters are split on revoke vs referendum.
"We don't agree with that policy. I mean, we are working with them in the Unite to Remain agreement but we've been quite clear that we don't agree that revoking without going back to the people is the right thing. We want to see further democracy. We want to see the people given a final say. We're confident there's a Remain majority in the country. We want to finish off the process of putting a deal versus remaining in the EU back to people and that's been our policy since the very start." – Sian Berry, LBC
The Lib Dems would only respect a second referendum if Remain wins.
“The fact that the Lib Dems long advocated giving the British people a say on our membership of the EU, and indeed were the first mainstream party to call for an in/out referendum on the matter, makes their new pledge to cancel Brexit without even a second referendum all the more extraordinary. And that, itself, being an evolution from a position that a second referendum result would only be respected if it resulted in a Remain vote.” – Robert Courts, Brexit Central
The SNP support a second referendum but secretly want no-deal.
“Their every utterance on Brexit is governed by one simple consideration: what might help increase support for independence. From the very day that the 2016 referendum result was announced, when within hours Nicola Sturgeon was on her feet in Bute House announcing new legislation for indyref2, the Nationalists have tried to weaponise Brexit to build support for Scexit. Whilst the SNP might publicly protest against a no-deal Brexit, in reality that is what they are privately wishing for, believing that the turmoil that would be created would push support for separation above the 50 per cent mark.” - Murdo Fraser, The Scotsman
The Brexit Party cannot deliver Brexit.
“Despite all the soundbites and slogans, the Brexit Party do not have a plan. Looking to the future, we need an ambitious blueprint for what our future relationship with the EU is going to look like. Nigel Farage and the Brexit party are simply too dogmatic to ever rationally engage with this process. Nigel Farage constantly changes his view on the crucial question of what comes next. He’s argued for Norway, argued for a loose trade agreement, argued for a bespoke deal, he’s even said previously that the time had come for a second referendum.” – Cameron Bradbury, Huffington Post
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Top pic: Getty