The British people have spoken — again, many Brexit supporters would say. And if the message wasn’t perfectly clear after the 2016 referendum on European Union membership, it is now: British voters want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fulfill his election pledge to “Get Brexit Done.”
So the U.K. will indeed leave the E.U., and soon. Every Conservative candidate signed on to back Johnson’s promise. Accordingly, even a small margin of victory would have advanced Brexit, but the Tories’ win was anything but narrow. The widespread win cracked several of Labour’s long-held constituencies, giving Conservatives their biggest majority in Parliament since the Thatcher era, back in 1987.
The converse of the Conservative Party’s ascendancy is Labour’s losses, which were of even more historic proportions — its worst showing since 1935. Now the party faces basic, even existential questions about its direction.
Among the answers must be a change in leadership. Polls showed that while many of Labour’s policies were popular, its leader, leftist Jeremy Corbyn, was decidedly not. And Corbyn was as politically incompetent as he was personally unpopular, letting what should have been a referendum on Brexit and Johnson’s shambolic early tenure become a referendum on Corbyn and Corbynism, the dramatic restructuring of the economy he promised.
In the wake of Labour’s historic setback, Corbyn said he wouldn’t be back as leader for another election but announced that he would stay on “to ensure there is a process now of reflection.” Those colleagues of his who remain should reflect on his leadership (and allegations of anti-Semitism) and move on.
Johnson’s landslide contains potential land mines, however. These include a surge by the Scottish National Party, whose strong showing and Scots’ strong desire to remain in the E.U. may mean another push for an independence referendum.
The uncertain status of a post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is fraught, too, and risks further political upheaval — but hopefully not a return to “The Troubles” that bedeviled Belfast and beyond for decades.
And although a European Union exit is now almost assured, a new trading relationship with its former members is much further off, as is the vaunted “massive new Trade Deal” President Donald Trump tweeted about after congratulating “Boris.”
At minimum, the disruptions promise economic challenges ahead. And long term, the island nation becoming an economic island is a real possibility, especially if the United Kingdom becomes disunited by Scotland and maybe even Northern Ireland.
What’s more, the stress on the E.U. extends to NATO, which can ill afford it at a time of the threat from a revanchist Russia. That’s why Trump’s enduring support for Brexit is contrary to U.S. interests.
But Britain’s voters have indeed spoken. Loudly.
Johnson and European leaders need to listen closely and proceed with a Brexit that’s as orderly as possible.