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U.K. Election Aims to End Brexit Deadlock, But Polls Suggest Further Stalemate as Conservative Lead Evaporates

Britain's third general election in four years -- and the first December vote in nearly a century -- was designed to finally unlock the country's ongoing Brexit stalemate, but polls suggest only a narrow lead for the ruling Conservative Party.

Britons will head to the polls for their third general election in four years Thursday hoping to unlock the nation's ongoing Brexit stalemate by election a government that is either committing to leave the European Union or promising to offer a second referendum on its membership of the world's biggest economic bloc.

Incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party candidate hold a commanding -- but narrowing -- lead heading into today's vote, which opened at 7:00 am local time, and look to win at least a narrow majority in the 650 seat House of Commons. If so, Johnson has vowed to stick to his campaign pledge to "Get Brexit Done" and pull Britain from the bloc on January 31, when he'll start negotiating a new trade deal he claims will "unleash" the country's economic potential.

“Today is our chance to unite as a country and put the uncertainty to bed so people can get on with their lives,” Johnson said. “Just imagine how wonderful it will be to settle down to a turkey dinner this Christmas with Brexit decided – and how awful it would be if (Opposition leader Jeremy) Corbyn and (Scottish National Party leader Nicola) Sturgeon were in Downing Street advancing their plans for two more referendums.”

His lead, however, has narrowed considerably over the past few weeks, largely on the back of series of gaffes and campaign mis-steps from a politician not know for his discipline or patience with the media. 

That slippage has opened sliver of hope for his electoral rival, Opposite Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has promised sweeping changes to the nation's tax and spending strategy as well as a second vote on Britain's EU membership based on an agreement he claims he can re-negotiate with Brussels in the comings months.

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“Tomorrow you can shock the establishment, by voting for hope,” Corbyn told a rally in  east London Wednesday. “Hope for yourself. Hope for your family. Hope for your community. Hope for our NHS. Hope for our country. Tomorrow, vote for hope. Vote for real change.

Both main parties, however, face the prospect of losing votes to upstart and third-choice rivals, with the established Liberal Democrats, an avowed supporter of Britain's place in the EU, and the Brexit Party, lead by the arch-leave supporters Nigel Farage, poised to disrupt polling in key seats around the nation.

The U.K. pound has climbed to a near three-year high of 1.3221 against the U.S. dollar in anticipation of a Conservative victory, as traders bet a stable majority will remove the Brexit uncertainty that has plagued investment and markets since the 2016 referendum. 

Implied volatility in that trade, however, is also trading at the highest levels since June 2016, suggesting traders are poised to instantly reverse their bets if Johnson fails to win an outright majority or, in the extreme scenario, loses the election in a swing to Labour lawmakers.

By law, U.K. media outlets are forbidden to broadcast any exit polling from today's vote until 10:00 pm London time (5:00 pm Eastern time), when all three major networks will release initial forecasts from pollsters Ipsos Mori.

The first official results -- typically from smaller constituencies in the north of England -- are likely to arrive by midnight local time, but a fuller picture of the overall vote is unlikely to emerge until well into morning hours of Friday.