POST TIME: 9 December, 2019 11:35:39 PM
Brexit, new referendum to dominate UK polls
AFP, London

Brexit, new referendum to dominate UK polls

Britain votes on Thursday in a crucial general election that will determine whether the country leaves the European Union next month or sets out a path to potentially reverse Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the election after disputes within his own Conservative party and with his Northern Irish allies over Brexit left him unable to command a majority in the House of Commons.

Opinion polls indicate the Tories will win enough MPs to get his divorce deal with the EU through parliament in time for Britain to leave on the next Brexit deadline, January 31.

This would help calm years of turmoil sparked by the 2016 Brexit referendum but is not the end of the story.

Nothing will immediately change thanks to a transition period intended to ease the shift to a new economic and security partnership with the EU.

Britain will have until December 31, 2020, to strike a new agreement to replace decades of integration with its closest trading partners. Most independent experts believe there is not enough time, saying London will have to extend the transition period, but Johnson denies this.

The main opposition Labour party is so far behind in opinion polls that few believe it can win outright, but it could secure enough seats to deprive the Conservatives of a majority.

Both Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would then likely race to try to show they can govern with the help of other smaller parties.

Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, struck a deal to govern with the help of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) when she missed out on a majority in 2017.

Johnson could try this again but the DUP is opposed to his EU divorce deal, which puts at risk his plan for a smooth Brexit next month. Labour has said it would try to govern alone but the Scottish National Party (SNP) has indicated it could be willing to prop up a Corbyn-led government.