On Friday morning, we will finally know what’s going on with Brexit. Sort of.
This election campaign has given Brits the opportunity to talk about things that are not Brexit. Important things, like how public services should be funded; how the UK’s healthcare system should work; how the country’s housing shortage should be solved.
After Thursday’s election, that daydream will be over. There will be a winner, and voters will once again demand answers to the single biggest question the nation faces. And the most likely outcome is that they will be in short supply.
Brexit has been oddly absent from this election. That might be because each party’s policy actually leads to more confusion. All have a clear topline for what happens if they win a parliamentary majority, but are quiet on how they will deliver it and what comes next.
This drift back towards the Brexit twilight zone hasn’t gone unnoticed in Brussels. “The debate around Brexit during this election has been about how you break the deadlock in Parliament, not about what the EU is or is not willing to offer the UK in the future,” says Georgina Wright, an EU expert at the Institute for Government think tank.
A win for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is the most likely outcome, though it’s far from certain if that means a majority in Parliament.
A Conservative majority would allow Johnson to pass his Brexit deal and take the UK out of the EU on January 31. Brexit will be done, but nowhere near over. The next stage will be agreeing on the future trading relationship with Europe before December 31, 2020 – the end of the so-called “transition period.”
Here’s where things get tricky. A slim Conservative majority means that Euroskeptic members of his own party will be able to hold Johnson hostage if they deem him to be bending to the will of Brussels.
However reckless that sounds, around this time last year, former Prime Minister Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence in that same party for trying to pass a Brexit deal very similar to Johnson’s.
While Johnson has managed to calm his rowdy lawmakers, for now, the future relationship with Europe is something that could stick forever.
Europe is unlikely to rub out its very clear red lines: something many of Johnson’s Conservatives seem oblivious to.
“It’s remarkable how myopic the debate has been. Zero discussion of the trade-offs and binary choices that follow in the immediate weeks after a Johnson majority,” a senior EU advisor told CNN.