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The Importance of the UK Elections

The UK election will be held today and it is probably the most important foreign election for Australia since the Second World War. It could result in Australia gaining access to a very large market that operates under the very same legal system as we do and which is familiar with our products and services. It could be a bigger boost to our economy than any budget stimulus in May could provide.

This depends on Boris Johnson winning the election for the Conservative Party. He has promised an early free trade agreement with Australia as well as an end to austerity in Britain. This will mean that demand for Australian goods and services will boom.

The polls indicate that the Conservatives are likely to win a majority in the House of Commons. There are 22 seats that are critical to the election and the polls have the Conservatives in front in all of them but by less than 5% in most. The Tories are worried that tactical voting, by people who want Britain to remain in the European Union, will result in another hung Parliament.

Opponents of Brexit now believe the only thing that can stop a Johnson majority is tactical voting, with voters selecting Labor or the fiercely anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats depending on which party is more likely to defeat the local Conservative candidate.

The main theme of the Conservative Party campaign has been ‘Get Brexit Done’ by the end of 2020. This includes the negotiation of a future trade relationship with the EU. External commentators have argued that this cannot be accomplished but it can. Both sides can agree to maintain the status quo with a few new trade rules. Under WTO rules they could then take up to 10 years to negotiate a final agreement.

Interestingly the technical aspects of the negotiations are being handled by Australian trade experts who have a substantial background in trade negotiations. There is also a big Australian and New Zealand influence in Boris Johnson’s election campaign. Australians from Crosby Textor are master minding the campaign strategy while a couple of New Zealanders are running the digital campaign.

It hasn’t been an easy campaign for the background boffins: both leaders are electorally unpopular. Jeremy Corbyn is dogged by accusations of antisemitism. Boris Johnson is accident prone. His latest ‘gotcha’ moment was to refuse to look at a photo of a child lying in a public hospital corridor and to put the journalist’s phone in his pocket.

This, combined with the fact that the election will be held in the middle of winter and voting is voluntary, will mean that there may be a poor turn out which could distort the election outcome.

Australians don’t usually take much notice of UK elections. It has barely featured on the Australian political radar. One former politician who has been paying attention is Tony Abbott who took time out from fighting bush fires to write an article for the The (English) Telegraph supporting a vote for the Conservatives. He argued that Britain should reclaim its leadership as a free and open country pushing for an open global economy.

This is an outcome Australia should support.

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