Voters go to the polls on Thursday in an election that will pave the way for Brexit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson or propel Britain toward another referendum that could ultimately reverse the decision to leave the European Union.
After failing to deliver Brexit by an Oct. 31 deadline, Johnson called the Dec. 12 election to break what he cast as political paralysis that had thwarted Britain’s departure and sapped confidence in the economy.
The face of the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, 55-year-old Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done”, promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.
His main opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, 70, promised higher public spending, nationalization of key services, taxes on the wealthy and another referendum on Brexit.
All major opinion polls suggest Johnson will win, though pollsters got the 2016 referendum wrong
All major opinion polls suggest Johnson will win, though pollsters got the 2016 referendum wrong and their models predict outcomes ranging from a hung parliament to the biggest Conservative landslide since the era of Margaret Thatcher.
“We could have a Conservative majority government which will get Brexit done and unleash Britain’s potential,” Johnson told campaigners. “This election is our chance to end the gridlock but the result is on a knife-edge.”
Corbyn said the Conservatives were the party of “billionaires” while Labour represented the many.
“You can vote for despair and vote for the dishonesty of this government, or you can vote Labour and get a government that can bring hope to the future,” he said.
Polls open at 0700 GMT and close at 2200 GMT when an exit poll will give the first indications of the result. Official results from the bulk of United Kingdom’s 650 different constituencies begin to come in from 2300 GMT to 0500 GMT.
While Brexit framed the United Kingdom’s first December election since 1923, the tortuous exit from the EU has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.
A majority would allow Johnson to lead the country out of the club it first joined in 1973, but Brexit would still be far from over. He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU in a self-imposed deadline of 11 months.
After Jan. 31, Britain would enter a transition period during which it would negotiate a new relationship with the EU27. He has pledged to do that by the end of 2020.