Top 3 developments
- The Unite to Remain alliance have confirmed the 60 seats involved in the pact, amongst criticism that it is counterproductive.
- The Brexit Party have decided not to contest any of the 317 seats won by Conservatives in 2017.
- The Labour Party has been accused of exaggerating the extent of the cyber-attacks that they fell victim to earlier this week.
General Election Update
Nigel Farage announced on Monday that the Brexit Party would not contest any of the 317 seats won by the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election. Although facing huge pressure to contest the 600 seats he had previously promised, the Brexit Party leader reached the conclusion that splitting the leave vote in Conservative seats would put Brexit at risk as it could result in a hung Parliament in which a Corbyn-led Remain alliance would hold second referendum.
Farage took this decision despite the Tories rejecting any formal election pact with the Brexit Party. This was a unilateral decision which the Conservatives (and particularly Conservative MPs!) will welcome with open arms. But, the Conservatives did not show much conciliation with this move, and used the opportunity to stress that the only way to secure Brexit is by voting Conservative.
However, on Wednesday Farage confirmed that the Brexit Party had sent the nomination papers to 300 Brexit Party candidates across the UK, and the decision of whether to contest these seats now rested with the individual candidates themselves, rather than Farage or any other Party official. Within these 300 seats are at least 71 leave voting Labour and Liberal Democrat seats which could be attainable for the Tories if the Brexit Party withdrew completely. It will forever remain unknown what the impact would have been if the Brexit Party had decided not to stand in these seats.
It remains to be seen how well the Brexit Party do at this election, and whether Johnson will need to enter into some form of Parliamentary alliance with them after the election to get Brexit done, but it was rather telling when a Brexit Party official said that: ‘The Brexit Party would be happy with 10 sitting MPs to help get Brexit done.’ Despite the rhetoric, this is perhaps the clearest indication of how the Brexit Party are expecting to do in this election. However, given their decreasing vote share in recent polls since their decision to stand down candidates, it appears that gaining just one MP may prove to be optimistic.
Gone in Sixty Seats
Last week, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens finalised a plan to have only one Remain MP each standing in 60 seats across England and Wales. The agreement, which notably did not include Labour, covered 49 seats in England and 11 in Wales, though the specific seats were not formally announced the same time as the alliance.
Now, the pact has come under significant criticism with many regarding the alliance as ineffective and counterproductive. Candidates are instead suggesting that Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens should stand down to support Labour to prevent splitting the remain vote. Whilst the purpose of the alliance in the first place was to reduce the extent to which the remain vote was split, the remain alliance candidates are still standing against Labour or Independent candidates who support remain or a soft Brexit. Critics of the alliance argue that such a strategy is counterproductive and will split the vote further, resulting in a lesser number of remain MPs in Parliament, who are also not united under the same party. Additionally, the lack of effectiveness has come into question as the alliance only involves 60 seats out of 650 for the UK.
The Liberal Democrats are facing the brunt of criticism as they are the largest party in the remain alliance. Attempting to shift the blame over to Labour, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health, Luciana Berger stated that Labour “had ample opportunity to [be involved in the pact] but they refused to engage”.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Labour Party were on the receiving end of two DDoS (distributed denial of service) cyber-attacks. A DDoS attack works by using ‘botnets’ (a network of compromised computers) to overwhelm a server with vast levels of web traffic causing it to run slow or go offline.
The attack was described by Labour’s head of campaigns, Niall Sookoo, as ‘large-scale’ and ‘sophisticated’, and by Jeremy Corbyn as ‘very serious’. However, multiple cybersecurity experts have commented on the attacks describing DDoS attacks as regular occurrences which pose little security threat to data or information if there are sufficient cybersecurity policies in place. Additionally, a source from the National Cyber Security Centre dismissed the attack as being low level whilst Andras Somkuti, President of the multinational IT and Media company Doclar Holding, commented that ‘to say a DDoS attack was very sophisticated is a bit of an oxymoron’.
Consequently, Labour have been accused of purposefully dramatising the cyber-attack as a tool for political gain. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace argued that this was probably an effort to distract people from Labour’s disastrous campaign. He also questioned Labour’s accusation that the attack may have partly stemmed from Russia saying, ‘why would Russia attack the Labour Party whose leaders want to break up NATO and never use the nuclear deterrent’.
The Conservative Party were also reported to a have been hit by a cyber-attack on Tuesday afternoon, however, the party has chosen not to make any comments on the incident.
Whilst the attacks don’t seem to have posed any real security risk, Corbyn’s speculation that it could be a sign of what is to come may be entirely valid. The attack is a reminder of the cyber security concerns which may still play an impact in the remainder of the campaign and which tainted the US 2016 Presidential Election.
Jeremy Corbyn has announced that there would be no independence referendum for Scotland in the first term of a future Labour Government. Speaking in Scotland, the Labour leader outlined that his focus was on capital investment for Scotland, instead of another referendum. This prompted an aggressive response from an SNP spokesperson that he was being ‘undemocratic’. The SNP have highlighted that they would not support Labour in a coalition Government or even in a Confidence and Supply arrangement unless they are granted another independence referendum. In practical terms, this increases the possibility of a hung Parliament should the Conservatives not win a majority. It is widely expected that Labour would need the support of either the Liberal Democrats or the SNP to form a Government because the 60+ seats they need to win to increase their Parliamentary position to a majority is seen as unrealistic. Whilst this scenario should by no means be discounted, all current polling suggests that this is unlikely.
This move is likely to boost Labour support in Scotland for those who do not want another referendum (the majority of Scottish voters according to the last referendum), and it is hard not to see this as a setback for the Conservative campaign. The potential for a repeat of the Brexit and Scottish referendum in 2020 has been one of the main attack lines from Johnson so far, as it effectively hammers home the idea that Labour would drag out the Brexit debate and subject the UK to two more divisive referendums. His message to get Brexit done would appeal to all those who are repelled by the thought of another two referendums, so Corbyn has blunted the effectiveness of this message by ruling out a Scottish vote. But, it does leave the door open for the Conservatives to accuse Corbyn of hypocrisy – by declaring the need for a second referendum on Brexit but not on Scotland. It will be an important aspect of the campaign to see how Labour respond to this inevitable attack line.
EU lacks Eurovision
Since the 2016 referendum, France, and the rest of the EU have allowed the UK multiple extensions of Article 50 to solve the political deadlock occurring in London and give opportunity for renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement. However, President Macron is now keen for a clear exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union by 31st January at the latest so that the Commission will be able to move on with their own agenda and reshape the Union.
According to reports, Marcon believes that the Liberal Democrats would be unable to get the majority numbers they need through the system of first-past-the-post, removing the option of revoking Article 50. Therefore, for Macron, the only option which would allow France to pursue the EU agenda would be if Boris Johnson returned as Prime Minister with a stronger majority than before. This, in theory, should allow for Johnson to bring back his existing deal to Parliament, allowing for the UK to leave the EU in January, depending on timings of the next Queen’s Speech. If, instead, there is a Labour majority or a hung Parliament then this would likely require a further extension, renegotiation and even a public vote on the deal and exit of the United Kingdom. This would probably be the worst-case scenario, from the French perspective, as it would mean that Brexit would dominate the EU’s agenda for at least another six months.
Arguing for the completely different side, President of the European Council, is hopeful that the General Election in the UK will allow to “turn things around” so that they do not become a global “second rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States and European Union”. Tusk is clearly optimistic that Remain parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, will be successful in the election, through the alliances in various constituency seats, and that stronger push for a second referendum and a decision will be made to revoke Article 50. However, it remains to be seen which side will come out successful on 12th December and what this will mean for the Brexit negotiations.
Despite being legally required to appoint an EU commissioner whilst remaining a member of the EU, Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, has written to Ursula von der Leyen (President-elect of the European Commision) to explain that the UK will not be doing so until after the General Election.
This follows advice from the Cabinet Office that international appointments should not be made during a General Election period. This is likely to cause frustration among EU leaders who have repeatedly requested the UK appoint a candidate and who made it a condition of granting a Brexit extension until January 2020.
It is also possible, however, that Boris Johnson is using this as a PR opportunity to honour his statement that he would not name a new commissioner ‘under any circumstances’. Consequently, the EU may need to delay the start of the new European Commission (due to start on December 1st) or make moves to ensure its legal legitimacy.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 12th December: UK Election.
- 31st January 2020: New Brexit Deadline.
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