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Who governs Britain if no one wins the #GeneralElection outright?

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Britain’s parliamentary election is billed as a chance to decide what the country does next about Brexit, but the result of the 12 December ballot may not be clear-cut, leaving parties scrambling to form alliances, writes William James.

Opinion polls put Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives ahead, but the election is hard to predict because Brexit cuts across traditional political loyalties and has pushed parties to form pacts which could distort the result.

If no party wins an outright majority of around 326 seats, Johnson’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party will have to look to smaller parties to see if they can find someone to support them in a minority government.

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE WINS A MAJORITY?

As prime minister, Johnson would make the first move - either to resign or try to form a minority government.

If he resigns or fails to find sufficient support, Labour leadre Jeremy Corbyn would have the opportunity to form a minority government.

According to statements made by smaller parties so far, Johnson is less likely to be able to form any kind of alliance than Labour in the event of a ‘hung’ parliament.

HOW DOES A MINORITY GOVERNMENT WORK?

Any government needs to be able to win a vote in parliament to prove their ability to govern.

Whoever tries to run a minority government must therefore persuade one or more smaller parties to do one of the following:

- vote with them so they can secure an outright majority, or;

- abstain, thereby lowering the total number of votes required for victory.

The calculations depend heavily on how many seats each party ends up with on 13 December.

WHAT DO THE SMALLER PARTIES SAY?

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY - Held 35 seats when parliament dissolved

The SNP has ruled out any formal coalition and says it would not vote to make Johnson prime minister. However, it could be willing to form an informal alliance with Corbyn if he agrees to consider giving Scotland another referendum on independence.

The SNP opposes Brexit and so could support any attempt by a minority Labour government to hold a second referendum on whether to leave the EU or not.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS - Held 20 seats when parliament dissolved

The centrist party has ruled out any formal coalition and say it would not vote to install either Corbyn or Johnson as prime minister. It says it would decide issue-by-issue which policies they could support from a minority government.

The Liberal Democrats are also anti-Brexit, so would be unlikely to support any attempt by the pro-Brexit Conservatives to take Britain out of the European Union.

The Lib Dems want to cancel Brexit, but would be likely to support a minority Labour government that promised to hold a second referendum on leaving the EU. Labour has said it wants to negotiate a new exit deal with Brussels and then ask voters in a new referendum to either approve it or opt to remain in the EU.

DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST PARTY - Held 10 seats when parliament dissolved

Northern Ireland’s DUP kept a minority Conservative government in power between 2017 and October 2019. However, it is firmly opposed to the Brexit deal Johnson wants to implement.

The DUP, which wants Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom and supports Brexit in principle, has ruled out supporting a Corbyn-led government.

Brexit

Brexit decision entirely separate from US election outcome says PM Johnson

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Britain’s decision on whether to agree a Brexit deal with the European Union is entirely separate to the outcome of the US election next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday (26 October), writes William James.

“The two things are entirely separate,” Johnson said, when asked about an Observer newspaper report that he was waiting to see the US result before making a Brexit decision, and whether he was concerned about the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency.

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Brexit

'Time is very short' Britain says as EU's Barnier heads to London

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Britain said on Monday (26 October) that time was very short to bridge the significant remaining gaps on key issues in talks with the European Union, as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier heads to London to continue negotiations, write and

The United Kingdom left the European Union in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before a transition period of informal membership ends on 31 December.

After a brief hiatus when London walked away from the negotiating table, both sides are now meeting daily to try to find common ground.

At stake is the smooth flow of cross-border trade as well as the harder-to-quantify damage that a chaotic exit would do to areas such as security information sharing and research and development cooperation.

“There is much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

Barnier and his EU team will be in London until Wednesday, after which talks will switch to Brussels and continue through the weekend, an EU spokesperson said.

EU diplomats were not expected to be briefed on progress in the latest batch of talks until later in the week.

Johnson told reporters he was very glad to be talking with the EU again, but offered no new clues on the likelihood of a deal: “We’ll see where we go.”

Since talks restarted last week, British ministers have said real progress has been made and that there is a good chance of a deal. On Sunday, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said a deal to avoid tariffs and quotas was likely.

After some progress on competition guarantees including state aid rules, the hardest issue remains fishing - Johnson has insisted on taking back control over Britain’s waters while the EU wants access.

Although Britain insists it can prosper without a deal, British companies are facing a wall of bureaucracy that threatens chaos at the border if they want to sell into the world’s biggest trading bloc when life after Brexit begins on 1 January.

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A good chance we can get a deal with EU, says UK minister Lewis

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Britain and the European Union have a good chance of striking a deal on future relations, the British government’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said on Sunday (25 October), writes William James.

The United Kingdom left the EU in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before a transition period of informal membership ends on Dec. 31.

Talks resumed last week after Britain walked away in frustration at what it saw as the EU’s unwillingness to compromise on key issues. On Friday (23 October), Britain said there had been good progress since the restart.

Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was planning to extend his stay in London until Wednesday (28 October).

Asked about that report, and the overall prospects of a deal, Lewis told the BBC: “I’m always an optimist...and I hope and I think there’s a good chance we can get a deal, but the EU need to understand it is for them to move as well.”

Lewis restated the government position that it would rather leave without a deal - a scenario it calls leaving on Australian terms - than accept a deal which is not in Britain’s interests.

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