The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: These Two Scots May Be the Last Hope to Stop Brexit

Jo Swinson smiles as she leans over to speak to Nicola Sturgeon during a televised debate.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews Ramo. Photo by Hannah McKay/Pool/AFP via Getty Image

It’s the last week before the election that will resolve everything or nothing about Brexit. Here’s what you need to know before you unwind over the weekend with some Greek poetry and quadratic equations.

This week in polls: As they have for the entirety of the election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are holding a roughly 10-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the polls, with support for both of the main parties steadily increasing.

Right now, the Conservatives look very likely to win the most seats. Given that all the other parties are opposed to his Brexit deal, or opposed to Brexit altogether, Johnson will still need an overall majority to “get Brexit done,” as he has promised. It’s possible he’ll get it, though far from assured.

This week in Tories: Johnson spent much of the week seemingly trying to avoid Donald Trump at this week’s NATO summit in London. (He didn’t entirely succeed.) On the campaign trail, he’s been laser-focused on his pledge to finalize Brexit by the end of January and secure a new trade deal with the EU by the end of next year. The first pledge will be easy if Johnson can secure an overall majority. The second will be tougher.

To avoid unforced errors and maintain a comfortable lead, Johnson has avoided several debate opportunities—including a climate change forum where he was represented by a melting block of ice—and was this week called out by Andrew Neil, a notoriously tough BBC interviewer who has grilled some of the other candidates, for declining to appear on his show.
Johnson will be appearing in a second head-to-head debate with Corbyn on Friday night.

Not helping matters: A senior British diplomat in the U.S. quit this week, saying could no longer “peddle half-truths” about Brexit.

This week in Labour: Things get a bit confusing when Corbyn talks about his own Brexit plan. The Labour leader wants to negotiate a new, softer Brexit deal, then put that deal up against “Remain” in a new referendum, during which he will remain neutral.

He’s more effective when highlighting aspects of Johnson’s deal that the prime minister would rather not discuss, including the question of whether there will be customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland and the specter of U.S. firms playing a greater role in the National Health Service and raising prices.

Why haven’t these attacks gained Labour more traction? In part because Corbyn himself remains deeply unpopular and continues to have trouble fending off charges that he has abetted anti-Semitism in his party.

This week in former PMs: In a sign of just how divided the major parties have become in the age of Brexit, both former Conservative Prime Minister John Major and former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair are urging voters to vote tactically to create a hung Parliament rather than endorsing their own parties.

This week in the Brexit Party: Three members of the European Parliament representing Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party quit this week to back the Tories, arguing that splitting the pro-Brexit vote risked delivering victory to the Remainers. The Brexit Party had already agreed not to contest seats held by Conservative incumbents, so it looks like the party’s not going to end up being much of a factor.

This week in the Remain Alliance: The chances of an overall Labour majority look vanishingly small at the moment, but a hung Parliament is quite possible. If that happens, much of the attention is going to focus on two smaller parties: the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.

The Lib Dems, whose popularity never recovered from their past support of David Cameron’s austerity measures, have worked to reinvent themselves as the unambiguous anti-Brexit party under their 39-year-old leader Jo Swinson.

Swinson talked a big game early on in the election about winning “hundreds of seats” and promising to revoke Brexit altogether if the Lib Dems won a majority. Polling at around 13 percent, reality has started to set in, and now they talk about creating a hung Parliament in order to force a new referendum.

Led by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon—who is not a candidate for the U.K. Parliament—the Scottish National Party also wants a new Brexit referendum, as well as a new referendum on Scottish independence. (Scots voted against independence in a 2014 referendum, but one or two things have changed since then.) The SNP is expected to dominate in Scotland and pick up several seats.

Either Swinson, Sturgeon, or both could play the role of kingmaker in a hung Parliament, but it’s not totally obvious how this would happen. A Labour-SNP coalition might make the most sense ideologically, except that Corbyn has ruled out a Scottish referendum. Swinson has declared both a Scottish referendum and Corbyn as prime minister to be unacceptable. The Lib Dems’ deputy leader has suggested the party could support a Conservative-led government in exchange for a new referendum, but would Johnson accept that?

We’ll know more once the votes are counted, but it does look like these two Scottish women might end up being Remainers’ last hope.

Days until election: 7

Days until next Brexit deadline: 57