Boris Johnson wins the election but faces a challenging year ahead
Thom Brooks

Editor's note: Thom Brooks is the dean of Durham Law School and a professor of law and government at Durham University. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Last week's general election was expected to see either Boris Johnson win with a small majority or a possibility of a hung Parliament bringing together a Labour and Scottish National Party (SNP) coalition. Neither happened and the polls were wrong again. Instead, Johnson's Tories won a large working majority to "get Brexit done" as he regularly repeated.

Johnson is showing signs that he will launch a fairly radical reform package. He is expected to remove workers' protection rights promised during the election campaign from the Withdrawal Agreement – this will no doubt lead many non-supporters to see this as a betrayal. Johnson is also expected to take revenge on the UK's Supreme Court which found he had unlawfully requested the Queen suspend Parliament in a unanimous decision by ending the court and replacing it with a return to the Law Lords.

He has also indicated he may go far beyond his party's election manifesto to relook at the BBC's licensing fee. He is expected to end criminalizing non-payment, but many fear he may look to end the fee altogether. If so, this would have hugely significant consequences for Britain's best known broadcaster.

The other winner last week was the SNP, making the election about opposing Brexit and supporting Scotland's independence. No doubt, Johnson will resist calls for an independence vote, but forcing Scotland out of the EU when it voted by nearly two-thirds to remain will no doubt keep the independence spirit alive.

British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson (C) speaks at the vote declaration in Uxbridge, London, Britain, December 13, 2019. /Xinhua Photo

British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson (C) speaks at the vote declaration in Uxbridge, London, Britain, December 13, 2019. /Xinhua Photo

And then there were those who lost. The Labour Party suffered major losses across constituencies it has held for decades. This has led to a row over who or what is to blame for Labour's worst results in nearly a century.

Some point to the unpopularity of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep although the prime minister is viewed as untrustworthy by more British voters. Others blame Brexit claiming the party's position was at fault. This is also unclear. About 80 percent of Labour supporters are pro-Remain and made up significant voter shares even in pro-Leave areas. And supporting Brexit led by the Tories would only further the Tories' hand.

I suspect a third factor – messaging – was perhaps equally to blame. Johnson's mantra of "get Brexit done" was plain and simple. Voters knew what would happen in the first month and first year if elected. Whereas the Labour had too much happening at once. There was a national manifesto, regional manifestos and even personal manifestos. 

This gave little sense of priorities, timing or how such a vast array of policies would be funded. This confusion over what they would do first or second combined with confusion over their Brexit policy – of negotiating a new deal and holding a second referendum where the party would remain neutral – led by an unpopular leader saw their vote share fall.

Another who lost were the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, now led by nationalists. While many speak of independence fears in Scotland post-Brexit, Northern Ireland voted even more strongly for Remain. The DUP which propped up Theresa May's government has been punished by the voters who have not re-elected the DUP's leader and soon there may be a customs border in the Irish Sea. 

The effect of this is that Northern Ireland will be treated differently from the rest of the UK –and may risk reopening conflict on the island of Ireland once again.

Despite the large working majority, Johnson will face a difficult year ahead. To "get Brexit done" he must do much more than pass a withdrawal agreement which he aims to do this month. He must also agree a new trade deal. These normally take years, but he's given himself only 11 months – and he's yet to make public any ideas about what his government would want to get out of these talks. This is not a recipe for success.

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