In Depth

Brexit odds: what happens next?

The Week explores how the most important and unpredictable election in years could shape Brexit

With the general election campaign in full swing, the stakes for the UK and the future of Brexit could not be higher. Each of the major parties have wildly differing policies on Britain’s relationship with the EU, from crashing out without a deal to revoking Article 50.

The future timetable for our departure or whether it happens at all now depends on whoever emerges victorious on 12 December.

Who will win the election?

Despite enjoying a consistently strong lead in the polls in recent months, the Tories’ election campaign has got off to a rocky start.

Comments by Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg over the Grenfell Tower disaster have reaffirmed the stereotype for many voters of a party out of touch with ordinary people. Meanwhile, the failure to release a report detailing foreign interference in previous UK elections has led to accusations of a cover-up by Number 10. Then yesterday, Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns became the first serving minister in history to resign during an election campaign, standing down as part of a wider scandal that threatens his party’s chances in Leave-supporting seats in Wales.

From fluctuating support for the Brexit Party to the impact of a Remain-alliance pact in 60 seats, this election is one of the most unpredictable in living memory. It means that national polls could have very little correlation to the final seat tally for each party.

Betfair spokesperson Katie Baylis said “with election campaigning now officially underway, No Overall Majority is now the favourite at odds of 20/21”.

The betting company, which has seen £1.3m wagered on the election already, currently has the Conservatives on 5/4 to win a majority. Labour are on 17/1 to emerge as the biggest party after 12 December, with the Lib Dems way back at 269/1 and Brexit Party at 329/1.

What if Boris Johnson stays prime minister?

Johnson surprised many in Westminster when he managed to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

However, he failed to get his deal through Parliament in time to meet his “do or die” pledge to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October. Instead, he was forced to apply for an embarrassing extension to Article 50, pushing back the date of Brexit to 31 January 2020.

With the party expected to reject an electoral pact with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – which has called for a clean no-deal break - and campaign on the prime minister’s renegotiated withdrawal deal, a Johnson majority after 12 December could see Parliament vote through his deal in a matter of weeks leading to the UK’s departure at the end of January.

In an olive branch to hardline Brexiteers, however, senior government figures have ruled out extending the so-called transition - during which Britain would stay part of the single market and customs union - the period first agreed by Theresa May, beyond 31 December 2020.

Downing Street has said that Johnson would not allow MPs to vote on whether to extend the transition period if no trade deal was in place. “Given that no significant trade deal has been concluded and ratified in such a short space of time, Johnson refusal to contemplate a longer transition — the EU withdrawal treaty provides for it to run until December 2022 — has raised the spectre of another no-deal cliff edge” says the Financial Times.

William Hill has odds of 1/2 on the UK leaving the EU between January and June 2020.

What if Jeremy Corbyn wins?

Labour has sought to head off criticism surrounding its Brexit policy by vowing to resolve the issue “within six months”. Under plans agreed at party conference this autumn, if it comes to power the party would renegotiate a softer withdrawal agreement with the EU then put that option against Remain in a second referendum in the summer.

Despite many of the shadow cabinet saying they would back staying in the EU, the party’s official policy on which way it would campaign would only be decided at a special conference held after the election.

The new referendum would require legislation to be held, whether or not it is advisory, like in 2016, or confirmatory, making it legally binding, says the BBC. “There would also have to be time for the Electoral Commission to consider the question wording - especially if it's a referendum with more than two options,” says the broadcaster.

Experts at the Constitution Unit at University College London say it would take a minimum of 22 weeks meaning the earliest it could be held would be July.

Paddypower currently has the odds of another in/out referendum taking place before the end of 2020 at 2/1.

What if Jo Swinson wins?

The simplest outcome would be under a surprise Lib Dem victory. The party has vowed to revoke Article 50, effectively cancelling Brexit without another public vote with immediate effect. It would be as if the past three and a half years had never happened. Betfair has odds of 12/5 on Article 50 being withdrawn.

While this would most likely draw huge protests from Leavers, few expect the Lib Dems to emerge as the biggest party in Parliament after 12 December. In this eventuality, the party’s policy is to support another referendum, perhaps in return for backing one of the two main parties to command the confidence of the Commons.


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