Four scenarios how the UK snap election is to play out

05. November 2019, 16:34 Uhr

The campaign is on, and the UK will go to the polls on 12 December. So what are the conceivable outcomes, and what might be their impact on Brexit? We have discerned four scenarios and analysed their respective consequences for the next stage of Britain leaving the European Union. (The probabilities given in parentheses are as follows: The first figure is calculated under the premise that the Brexit Party does not challenge Conservative candidates; the second assumes the contrary).

1st revision, 11 November: With the Brexit Party’s announcement not to contest Conservative-held seats but to stand candidates in Labour-held constituencies, we’ve eliminated the scenario estimates for an outright challenge by the Brexit Party and adapted our base-case scenario probabilities accordingly.

2nd revision, 28 November: YouGov’s MRP poll of last night has not changed our own analysis a bit; in fact, it indicates that our early analysis of a likely Conservative majority – however large or small – has been accurate. Thus, the only revision we’ve made to our probabilities is to heighten that of a huge Tory majority from less than five to between five and ten per cent.

1) Huge Tory majority (more than 20 seats; 5-10%)

Though unlikely, this scenario might not be discarded out of hand, especially if the Brexit Party decides not to challenge the Tories. For this scenario to become real, the Conservatives (CON) would need to break into the Labour (LAB) “red wall” in the Midlands and the North in big fashion (bellwether constituencies: e.g. Wolverhampton South West, Halifax, Ashfield) while simultaneously fending off too massive a loss to the Liberal Democrats (LD) in London and the South (bellwether constituencies: e.g. Richmond Park, Sutton & Cheam, Lewes, Yeovil) and retaining their Midlands marginals into the addition (watch Mansfield, Northeast Derbyshire). If this scenario comes to pass, the new Conservative parliamentary party undoubtedly would be more Eurosceptic than ever before: While countless moderate Tories have declared not to stand in the election, this Brexit-centred poll will see loads of Brexiter candidates nominated. Hence, once the new government will have been formed, it is more likely than not that the strengthened European Research Group and its allies will yet call for another change to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, now to avoid the customs border in the Irish Sea – if only because in this scenario, the group of Conservative MPs fearing no deal will have become considerably smaller. Should they link Boris Johnson’s future as leader to these fresh demands, the Prime Minister is very likely to give in and asks Brussels for a renegotiation. If, however, that agreement should be ratified by Parliament all the same, it is highly likely that either a liberal free trade agreement (FTA) matching Boris Johnson’s objectives or even no deal in terms of trade arrangements will ensue, for the reasons stated above.

2) Small Tory majority (up to 20 seats; 45-60%)

If the Brexit party holds fire, then this scenario is the most probable by far, for the conditions stated above: It is rather unlikely that CON will manage to both break into LAB constituencies in the North and defend enough seats in the South simultaneously to achieve more than a slender majority. That scenario, however, is the best for Boris Johnson’s deal to pass: With a small majority only, a rebellion in the Conservative parliamentary party against the current withdrawal agreement is completely unlikely, even with the potential handful of Brexit Party MPs. Were the latter to become stronger than that, a Tory majority would be most improbable anyway (see below). That said, the ensuing trade negotiations would then still be more probable than not to produce a liberal FTA to the Prime Minister’s liking or, if it comes to that, a no-deal outcome in terms of trade.

3) Hung parliament (<40%)

By contrast to many other observers and analysts, we do not think this scenario to be the likeliest – provided the Brexit Party decides not to challenge the Tories. Were the latter to come true, a hung Parliament would almost certainly ensue by contrast. In that case, the withdrawal agreement as it stands would be dead in the water, simply because its being amended beyond recognition either by Brexiters led by the new group of Brexit Party MPs or Remainers led by LD is then the prospect almost by default. The key element in determining the latter will be the number of seats LD will win (under the very likely assumption that the SNP will rock the boat in Scotland taking 50+ seats and the Brexit Party will rake in between fifteen and twentyfive seats): If the LD take turns out in excess of seventy, then an all-out renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement together with another extension of at least half a year will follow, either with or without a Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If, by contrast, the number of LD seats falls short of forty, then a simple amendment to the withdrawal agreement (most likely concerning the membership in the customs union) is the likeliest outcome, complete with a short, focussed renegotiation in Brussels and likely crowned by a second referendum on that deal vs. Remain.

4) LAB victory, however small (<5%)

Though completely unlikely due to the persistently equivocal Brexit position of Labour, it is an interesting scenario all the same and not completely out of the question if the Brexit Party decides to do battle against the Tories. Yet the odds are really, really long: LAB had not only to defend all or almost all its seats in the North and Wales as much as Scotland, but also against LD in the South and London in particular (watch Birmingham Northfield, Gower, Edinburgh South, East Lothian, Cambridge and Bermondsey & Old Southwark); into the addition, Jeremy Corbyn and his party had to pick up loads of seats from CON in London and the South, and at least two in Wales (bellwethers: e.g. Harrow East, Finchley & Golders Green, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport). Were that all to happen indeed, then Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal would be for the birds without any doubt. What exactly were to follow would, again, depend on the number of LD seats: If under these circumstances they manage to gain more than fifty, then another simple in/out referendum is likely to follow. If, however, the LD intake is less than thirty seats, then a complete renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement under Jeremy Corbyn is likely to ensue, plus a second referendum on whether to accept this deal or simply Remain in the EU as is. This scenario, hence, would almost definitely lead to a second referendum, regardless of the exact question put to voters.

[Photo: secretlondon123,, use under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0]