British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is moving quickly to capitalize on his election victory and plans to take the first step toward pulling Britain out of the European Union this week.
Members of Parliament will return to work Tuesday, and the Queen’s Speech on Thursday will outline the government’s priorities. On Friday, Mr. Johnson is expected to introduce legislation implementing the withdrawal agreement he struck with the EU in October. The law clears the way for Britain to formally leave the bloc on Jan. 31.
Mr. Johnson tried to get Parliament to adopt a similar law in October, when the Conservatives still had a minority government, and the bill became bogged down in wrangling among MPs. He triggered a snap election to break the logjam, and the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority last Thursday, the largest Tory victory since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987. Every Conservative candidate signed a pledge to support the withdrawal agreement, which guarantees its smooth passage through the House of Commons.
The law includes a transition period until the end of 2020, during which the United Kingdom will remain within the EU’s single market and customs union but will not participate in EU institutions. During the transition, both sides will negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement, although most experts doubt that’s sufficient time. The deadline can be extended by up to two years, but Mr. Johnson has insisted he doesn’t want a delay.
His big election victory could change that. It has radically altered the traditional Conservative base and infused the party with dozens of MPs from ridings that had been held by the Labour Party for decades. Many of those seats are in Northern England and Wales, parts of the country that could be hardest hit by a disorderly Brexit.
That could shift Mr. Johnson’s perspective on Brexit and soften his tone against a close alignment with the EU.
Mr. Johnson has “a whole load of MPs saying, ‘You need to save the jobs of my constituents,’” said Simon Hix, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “I read [the election results] as a freer hand for Johnson to negotiate a softer version of Brexit.” Dr. Hix added that if Mr. Johnson goes for a softer Brexit and closer alignment with the EU, it would be far easier to conclude a comprehensive trade deal.
Sara Hagemann, academic director of the LSE’s School of Public Policy, said many of the voters who backed the Tories in Labour areas voted for Mr. Johnson to get Brexit over with, but they aren’t typical Conservatives who support free enterprise and fiscal prudence. They are much more likely to favour government intervention and public spending. “Certainly there will be a different sort of Conservative Party going forward,” she said.
Mr. Johnson is already showing signs of catering to his new base of support. He made his first post-election speech on Saturday in the northeastern town of Sedgefield, which was once the riding of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair and, until last week, hadn’t voted Conservative in 84 years. “I want the people of the North East to know that we, in the Conservative Party, and I [as Prime Minister], will repay your trust,” Mr. Johnson told a rally of supporters.
The Queen’s Speech is expected to lay out plans to substantially boost spending on the National Health Service and public infrastructure projects, including roads and railways in northern regions. Those regions will also be given more control over the operation of their rail networks.
The election result also prompted the two main parties in Northern Ireland to resume talks to reopen the legislature. The regional parliament has been closed since January, 2017, because of a dispute between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. Both parties suffered a big drop in support last Thursday amid growing anger about the lack of public services and the nonfunctioning government. The DUP lost two of its 10 seats, while Sinn Fein held on to seven with reduced majorities. Voters backed the more moderate Alliance Party and the Social Democrat and Labour Party. The Alliance won just one seat but came third in the overall vote tally, while the SDLP took two seats and increased its share of the vote by 3 per cent.
The parties met Monday in Belfast to try to end the deadlock. The British government has given them until Jan. 13 to reach an agreement or it will call for an election.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.