Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'The UK election may be over but the Brexit battle is not'

'Remainers and Brexiteers had locked their country into a bad-humoured stalemate.' Stock photo
'Remainers and Brexiteers had locked their country into a bad-humoured stalemate.' Stock photo


Before a single vote was cast they had dubbed the UK election "the nightmare before Christmas".

Appetite for the contest - the first to be held in December in nearly 100 years - following polls in 2015 and 2017 was always faint. And if some believe it may be the most consequential general election since 1945, the overwhelming feeling in its aftermath will be relief it is out of the way.

An unprecedented sense of weariness and wariness hung over the polling stations in 650 constituencies across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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To be going to the ballot box in the third general election in less than five years would test the ardour of the keenest democrat.

To be compelled to do so with the UK riven by Brexit, in the bleak midwinter, was a true test of political character. Boris Johnson's rallying cry to "Get Brexit Done" sought to give the impression there was a quick way to the heart of the matter.

Remainers and Brexiteers had locked their country into a bad-humoured stalemate. The paralysis must be broken, but it will take trust. The Tory campaign did nothing to allay suspicions of an elastic relationship with the truth. Even if the best possible scenario Conservatives could hope for comes to pass, the notion that all the loose ends and jagged edges might be tied up and smoothed over with Brussels by January 31 is a fiction.

The hard part of the Brexit process can really only begin after New Year's Eve, the latest deadline set by the EU to finalise the withdrawal deal.

Mr Johnson's aspiration to bulldoze through a permanent trade agreement by the end of the year always looked incredibly ambitious.

Labour's notion of re-negotiating the EU withdrawal agreement and putting it to another referendum also seemed fanciful to many.

For that matter, everyone sitting on the sidelines hoping yesterday's election would put Brexit to bed once and for all may also be guilty of wishful thinking. All Mr Johnson could truthfully offer was a temporary stilling of the argument.

But setting the results to one side, the conduct of the campaign was also deeply unsatisfactory.

Unfortunately, it was consistent with the discernible descent in behaviour and standards in too many recent elections.

For the record, as some observers have noted, it is still meddling when the meddlers are the very people trying to get elected.

Researchers tracking disinformation found candidates too ready to adopt manipulative tactics to game a digital system. Lies and rumours are spread with ever-increasing velocity online at the expense of verifiable facts.

Bombardment with inflammatory content and fuelling conspiracies corrodes trust and cheapens politics. Such tactics, though clearly immoral, are not illegal.

The impulse to exploit the advantages the web affords, and to interfere with the freedom to vote with full and fair information, has to be suppressed to protect the integrity of the ballot.

Irish Independent

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