Britain Goes to the Polls Amid Brexit Deadlock
Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have a narrow lead, but undecided voters will determine the winner.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Britain votes in a snap election that will likely decide the fate of Brexit, France unveils its pension reform plan, and Algeria holds a controversial presidential vote.
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Britain Votes—But Will It Break Brexit Deadlock?
British voters go to the polls today in a monumental election that will most likely determine the fate of Brexit, after years of deadlock. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the snap election to break the political logjam over Britain’s departure from the European Union. He is hoping to win a large majority with a mandate to “get Brexit done.” Meanwhile, leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is doing everything he can to avoid talking about Brexit at all.
As Anand Menon argues in Foreign Policy, “Corbyn is banking on Brexit fatigue and betting that voters will prioritize bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, investment, and health care.” While the Labour party has promised to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU and put it to a referendum, Corbyn is focused on making today’s vote about concrete social issues rather than “abstract promises of a post-Brexit future.”
What do the polls say—and do they matter? The Conservatives are polling ahead of Labour, but all are wary of the predictions: Millions of undecided voters will likely sway the result. The polls do show that the race has narrowed considerably over the last two weeks, putting Johnson’s chances of winning an outright majority in doubt. “We absolutely cannot rule out the 2019 election producing a hung parliament—nor can we rule out a larger Conservative majority,” Anthony Wells, the head of political research at YouGov, told Reuters. On Wednesday, party leaders campaigned down to the last minute.
Will Boris Johnson lose his seat? In 2017, Johnson won his own West London district by just over 5,000 votes—the narrowest constituency majority for any prime minister in more than 50 years, FP’s C.K. Hickey writes. Today, Johnson faces a challenge from Labour’s Ali Milani, a 25-year-old who came to the U.K. from Iran when he was five. The race is within the margin of error and an upset is possible, Stephen Paduano reports for FP. If Milani succeeds, he would be the first person to win the seat of a serving prime minister.
What’s happening in Scotland? In 2017, the Conservatives won 13 seats—taking back many constituencies that the Scottish National Party had won in 2015. But the Scottish Conservatives have lost their popular and moderate leader, Ruth Davidson, and Johnson is extremely unpopular. The SNP is targeting all the Conservative-held seats and stands a good chance of winning many of them back, including the bellwether district of Stirling, Jamie Maxwell reports for FP.
Hands off our health care. One issue that could sway undecided voters is the future of the National Health Service (NHS), which could be undermined by Brexit. During the 2016 referendum campaign, Johnson promised that leaving the European Union could mean more money for the NHS. Many voters are now realizing the opposite could be true, the New York Times reports. In a poll last week, 58 percent of respondents mentioned the NHS as a key issue for them in this election.
What We’re Following Today
More strikes expected as France enacts pension reform. After days of mass strikes and protests against a plan to reform France’s pension system, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Wednesday that people will be encouraged to work two years longer—rather than retire at 62.
The move prompted anger among labor unions, which pledged to keep striking. “The red line has been drawn,” the head of France’s biggest union said. Pension reform was a key part of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign. Meanwhile, to distract from the protests, Macron has been embracing his patriotism on the world stage, J. Alex Tarquinio reports for FP.
Algeria holds presidential election amid protests. Algerians will also vote today in a presidential election that is already proving controversial. Over the last year, Algeria has been rocked by a mass protest movement—called Hirak—pushing to oust the political elite, but all five of the candidates for president have establishment ties. The Hirak Movement alleges the vote isn’t free or fair, and thousands of protesters are likely to boycott it. Those who seek change in Algeria have few good options to choose from, Ilhem Rachidi writes in FP.
U.S. lawmakers expected to back impeachment articles. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will continue debate today on the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, which it is expected to approve along party lines before the end of the day. Members of the committee will be permitted to propose changes, though they are subject to a vote within the panel, which is heavily Democratic. With approval, the articles—which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—will be sent on to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
Keep an Eye On
India’s citizenship bill. On Wednesday, the upper house of India’s parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which would grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Critics of the bill—awaiting the approval of the president—say that it violates India’s secular Constitution. But secularism might be dying in India, Sumit Ganguly argues in FP.
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Press freedom in Iraq. Authorities in Iraq have tried to silence the mass protests there with a media blackout. Security forces have detained, beaten, and seized equipment from journalists seeking to cover the protests. But the survival of Iraq’s democracy depends on press freedom, Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras argues in FP.
Why China still needs Hong Kong. After six months of protests, Hong Kong has fallen into its first recession in 10 years. But the city hasn’t outlived its usefulness for mainland China as a business hub, as November’s Alibaba listing shows. If the United States ever suspends its economic privileges for Hong Kong, it would be a blow to China, Hilton Yip writes in FP.
Foreign Policy Recommends
Peter Oborne, a lifelong Conservative voter who once worked under Boris Johnson when the prime minister was editor of The Spectator, has marked election day by writing a scathing article on why he cannot bring himself to vote for his former boss.
Praising Johnson as “one of the most brilliant men to enter Downing Street,” Oborne argues that the prime minister “ought not to need reminding that the Conservative Party came into existence in the wake of the French Revolution as a defender of institutions … against abstraction, ideology and ultimately political violence.”
But now, Oborne contends, “Johnson’s new Conservatives have abandoned these origins, and become a sect. They have detached themselves from the everyday concerns of ordinary people and are waging a destructive war on the British system of government … It is an explicit repudiation of everything that it means to be a Conservative.”
Odds and Ends
The Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year on Wednesday. At 16 years old, she is the youngest-ever honoree. Thunberg has led a new generation of climate activists in the Fridays for Future protest movement, which has grabbed leaders’ attention. At the U.N. COP25 conference in Madrid, Thunberg said she was “a bit surprised” by the Time award.
That’s it for today.