Halloween came, but Brexit didn’t. The Oct. 31 deadline for pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union – itself an extension of an earlier cut-off date – has been postponed to Jan. 31, 2020, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not deceased in a ditch as he promised he would be.
Instead, he is leading his country into a general election on Dec. 12 that has so many possible outcomes that it seems almost mystical in nature.
Will the Battle for Brexmas, as it has inevitably been dubbed in one London newspaper, grant Mr. Johnson the sacred powers required to sever the U.K.’s long allegiance with the forces of the Bloc?
Will voters instead turn to the Labour Party, and bequeath it the task of settling the issue with a magical second referendum on Brexit?
Will a third party arise from the mists of Parliament and chart yet a new course?
Or will Parliament be hung, with no clear winner and the very real possibility of a no-deal Brexit looming over Christmas dinner?
The British cannot know for certain what will have been wrought until the votes are counted, and even then there is a good chance that nothing about Brexit will have been cleared up, except for the fact that an election can’t clear things up about Brexit.
Actually, we already know that. Theresa May, Mr. Johnson’s predecessor as PM and leader of the Conservative Party, tried the same strategy in 2017: a snap election to reinforce her mandate to push Brexit through Parliament.
It didn’t work at all. The Conservatives lost seats and ended up as a minority government that was reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party for support. This was followed by two years of failed negotiations with the EU and within Parliament, both doomed by Ms. May’s weakened political position.
And when she rolled the electoral dice, she had a bigger lead in the polls than Mr. Johnson does.
Now Mr. Johnson is trying the same play – with two crucial differences. Unlike Ms. May, he has managed to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU that Parliament has approved on second reading. Also, he is charismatic.
And so here we are. Britons have to decide not just what they want for Christmas but what they want for Brexmas, too.
They can vote for the Conservatives in the hope that Mr. Johnson will get a majority and be able to push through his withdrawal agreement quickly. The Brexit saga would be over, and a new saga would begin in which the U.K.’s trade alliances would have to be renegotiated from scratch, London would lose its clout as the financial centre of Europe, and the country’s economy would shrink.
Or they could vote Labour in the hopes of giving a majority to the party that has vowed to negotiate a deal with the EU, put it to a referendum and then campaign for the Remain side. That would continue the uncertainties wrought by the spectre of Brexit deep into the new year, if not beyond.
Or voters could treat the election as a referendum on Brexit and abandon traditional partisan lines, choosing instead to support the politician they view as most likely to bring about their preferred option.
Many Leave votes could go to third parties, such as the new Brexit Party, while Remain votes might go to the Liberal Democrats, resulting in a hung Parliament.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that snap elections centred on a single issue are often overtaken by completely different matters that emerge from the campaign trail. Mr. Johnson is a loose cannon – remember, he claimed he’d “rather be dead in a ditch” than extend the Oct. 31 deadline. And Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most unpopular Opposition leaders in recent U.K. history.
What people in the U.K. will not get from this election is what they most need: the end of the Brexit movement.
At best, they are either headed for a negotiated withdrawal from the EU, which would be a permanent drag on their economy and likely prompt Scotland to secede, or they are about to prolong the uncertainty surrounding their future.
At worst, they will be thrown in the upheaval and pain of a no-deal withdrawal in 2020, compared to which a lump of coal in a stocking would feel like the best Christmas present ever. These are not the merriest options.