Exit polls predict a surprise result in UK elections making Brexit an open question

The choice.
The choice.
Image: Reuters/Dylan Martinez and Reuters/Phil Noble
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After six weeks of listening to platitudes and promises from UK’s political parties, Brits will vote tomorrow (June 8) to elect a new leader.

When prime minister Theresa May announced the “snap” general election, her Conservative party made the bet that the main issue on voters’ mind would be Brexit. More than 75% of members of parliament (MPs) voted to remain in the EU, but nearly 60% of constituencies voted to leave. If May were to win the election, she would not just have a majority in the parliament but also the moral high ground as she went into negotiations of UK’s divorce with the EU.

At the time, the election seemed a good bet. May had just triggered Article 50, the formal process to start the process of exiting the bloc. The members of the opposition Labour party were struggling to defend their own leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And Conservatives had a massive 20-point lead in the polls against Labour.

Much has changed in six weeks. Depending on the poll you look at, the Conservative lead over Labour is between one and 12 points. Though the odds are still in May’s favor, professional betting sites give Corbyn better odds of becoming prime minister than they did Donald Trump become the US president or the UK voting for Brexit.

If Conservatives win in a landslide, the UK’s stance in the Brexit negotiations is reasonably clear. May has vowed that she will leave the EU in March 2019, no matter where negotiations are. Her mantra is “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

But any other outcome in the snap election would make Brexit an open question. Here are the other possibilities:

Conservatives win the majority but lose seats: This is a situation May wants to avoid. The pro-European MPs in her own party could cause trouble as she goes into negotiations with the EU. A “hard” Brexit—leaving the single market; ending EU migration; throwing out all EU laws—would still be a possibility, but not a very likely one.

Conservatives win most seats but lose majority: In this scenario Labour would most likely join hands with the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition. Though Corbyn would become prime minister, he likely would have to make concessions on Labour’s stance on Brexit. In such a situation, a “soft” Brexit—remaining in the single market; keeping EU migration, but leaving the bloc and thus getting rid of EU laws—would be the most likely outcome, with a slim chance that Brexit is reversed.

If no coalition can be formed, May could run the country in a minority government. None of the past minority governments, however, have survived the full term.

Labour wins most seats but doesn’t get a majority: Like above, if a coalition is not possible, Corbyn could run a minority government.

Labour wins majority: Corbyn would become prime minister, and if he keeps his word on Brexit—giving the parliament a final vote on the negotiations—then it won’t be reversed. The most likely outcome is a soft Brexit, which would put the UK in a similar position as Norway.