Leave, Actually – What the Election Means
By Duncan Whitmore
“Tidings of Comfort of Joy” – so heralded the front page of The Daily Telegraph during their vision of Boris Johnson’s election victory descending from heaven with a chorus of angels. Certainly the magnitude of Johnson’s achievement is difficult to overstate. Not only has he propelled the Conservatives to an impressive parliamentary majority by robbing Labour of seats in its traditional working class heartlands; he has also, in a few short months, purged the Tories of their wrangling over Europe which has plagued each of their party leaders since Margaret Thatcher. For libertarians, however, while the result of last Thursday’s poll brings much comfort, the joy may have to be put on ice for a while.
There is comfort in the fact that, for the third election in a row – two general, one European – the British people have reaffirmed their 2016 decision to leave the European Union. No longer can dyed-in-the-wool Remainers claim that the electorate did not know what they were voting for, given that the precise form of Brexit was there for all to see in the text of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement. In the end, the possible split of the Leave vote between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party failed to materialise. Instead, as Nigel Farage intended, his party contributed to the fall of Labour in working class constituencies while the Tory vote remained intact. In some of the most surprising Tory victories – for example, in Durham Northwest, Blyth Valley, Bassetlaw, Bishop Auckland and Bolsover (where Dennis Skinner was unseated after nearly fifty years) – the spoils from Labour losses were parcelled out between the Brexit Party and the Tories, allowing the latter to accomplish anything between narrow and landslide victories over Labour. Although, according to Wednesday’s Times, some studies have claimed that the Brexit Party actually deprived the Conservatives of around twenty further seats, this is no bad thing. For in spite of gaining only 2% of the vote nationally and no seats, Farage’s combination of help and hindrance to the Tories has paid off by decimating the prospect of any parliamentary “Remainer” alliance while also neutering Conservative complacency. Of course, the precise unfolding of Brexit – i.e. the final form of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement and the eventual results of negotiations over the trade deal – remains to be seen. But the prospect of a second referendum leading to the outright cancellation of the decision to leave has finally been buried. Read more