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CRYSTAL BALL

The UK votes on December 12th. Here are the three ways it could go

Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters
Closing arguments.
Annabelle Timsit
By Annabelle Timsit

Geopolitics reporter

London

On Dec. 12, British voters will elect a new Parliament, and the result will determine the course of their country’s exit from the European Union.

It seems even harder than usual to predict the result, even with just two days left before the vote and a battery of polls across the country’s 650 constituencies for pundits to analyze. Last-minute twists and turns tied to the fate of the National Health Service (NHS) and a terrorist attack in London have added to the uncertainty. And while current polls suggest that prime minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party will win a majority, the opposition Labour Party has closed the gap somewhat in recent weeks.

There are effectively only three ways the election could go. Here’s what each scenario means for the issue voters say they care most about: Brexit.

A big Conservative win

Johnson’s Conservatives are odds-on to win a majority in the House of Commons this week. As the Financial Times’ Whitehall correspondent James Blitz puts it (paywall), “the critical question on the night will be: how big?”

If the party takes at least 321 seats, it will give Johnson the leeway to follow through on his promise to pass his Brexit deal, meaning that the UK would officially leave the EU by January 31.

A hung parliament

A hung parliament means no single party wins a majority of seats.

If the Conservatives fail to win a majority, Johnson will either resign or try to form a minority government. This may prove difficult given that the Liberal Democrats have ruled out entering into a coalition with the Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—which entered into a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Conservatives in 2017 after they lost their majority—opposes Johnson’s Brexit deal.

If the Conservatives can’t form a minority government, then Labour will get its shot. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said she will not prop up a Labour government if Jeremy Corbyn is still its leader, so Corbyn may choose to resign. If he doesn’t, then he could form an alliance with smaller parties like Plaid Cymru and the Greens, or with the Scottish National Party, whose leader Nicola Sturgeon said she would enter into a coalition with Labour if Corbyn pledged to back a second Scottish independence referendum (paywall) after 2021.

If that happens, there would likely be another referendum on Brexit, in addition to a possible vote on Scottish independence.

A Labour majority

If the Labour Party wins a majority, Corbyn will become Britain’s next prime minister. He has pledged to renegotiate a Brexit deal with the EU and put it to a second referendum—his deal versus remaining in the EU.

This is the least likely scenario, but if the original Brexit referendum and the 2017 general election have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

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