In the final week of the election campaign, the last leaders’ head-to-head debate was widely judged a score draw, with Boris Johnson seen as “boring but effective” and Jeremy Corbyn confident and measured. But few thought it would swing the polls.
As Donald Trump arrived in the UK for a Nato summit and denied that the US was remotely interested in the NHS, the Labour leader piled pressure on the prime minister over the status of the health service in any post-Brexit trade deal negotiations.
Johnson, meanwhile, refused to rule out coming out of the EU on WTO terms (a no-deal Brexit) next year after the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said it was “absolutely” right to keep a no-deal outcome on the table. The chancellor, Sajid Javid, said much the same.
On the EU side, the outgoing president of the European council, Donald Tusk, called Brexit “one of the most spectacular mistakes” in the history of the EU, and the bloc distanced itself from Johnson’s rushed 11-month timetable for a post-Brexit trade deal.
In a tricky week for the government, John Major backed three ex-Tory independents; the UK diplomat explaining Brexit to the US resigned because she was no longer prepared to “peddle half-truths”; and a leaked Treasury document suggested the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland would be far greater than the prime minister has claimed.
Then the father of one of the London Bridge attack victims called Johnson a fraud; opposition leaders labelled him untrustworthy; and the Tory campaign was accused of “lying and cheating” to distract attention after the PM refused to look at a photo of a sick four-year-old boy forced to sleep on a hospital floor.
But as Corbyn launched his final election push there was little evidence any of it would make a difference. Johnson’s “get Brexit done” strategy was resonating with marginal focus groups, with many Brexiters undeterred by concerns over his character, and the polls showed the Tories maintaining their lead.
What next?We’ll know a lot more on Friday, obviously. But it’s clear that the three possible election outcomes would have very different implications for Brexit.
A Tory majority would mean Johnson gets his deal through parliament, possibly before Christmas, and the UK will leave the EU on 31 January – although, contrary to his assertions, that would not be the end of the Brexit saga. Far from it.
A hung parliament would probably halt the prime minister’s plans and could open a route to the UK staying in the EU: without a majority and with the Democratic Unionist party opposed, it is hard to see how he could get his Brexit deal through unless he agreed to make approval of it subject to a second referendum, with the other option being to remain in the EU.
If a Labour minority government were formed then Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party would all favour a second referendum as the way to break the impasse, though the details of what question would be asked would be the subject of difficult negotiation.
A Labour win, however, would see the government try to renegotiate its own Brexit deal and put it to a second referendum, with the other option being to remain. It would struggle to do all this within six months, but if it wins power it will not worry too much if that timetable has to be stretched.
Here’s a look at the election night timetable.
Best of the rest
- UK employers “pause” job hiring as demand falls to seven-year low
- Campaigners attack Boris Johnson for EU nationals remarks
- Russia involved in leak of papers saying NHS is for sale, says Reddit
- UK house prices rise despite uncertainty over Brexit and election
- Gove criticises Labour plan to let EU citizens vote in a second referendum
- Farage hits out at three MEPs who quit Brexit party to back Tories