With both official and practical Brexit deadlines approaching, the Conservative party’s “oven-ready” deal looks decidedly under-cooked. A mishandled threat to break international law led every living former prime minister to speak out against the government’s Internal Markets Bill, with the PM conceding ground to an internal rebellion despite an 87-seat working majority. Amid eroding soft power abroad, there is little positivity at home. COVID-19 cases are rising sharply after the government spent weeks cajoling workers back into offices and subsidising mingling in restaurants. Any pandemic poll-bounce has vanished, with most pollsters showing the opposition within touching distance of the Conservatives for the first time since Boris Johnson became leader.
Risks abound. The economy has been among the worst performers in Europe even before any Brexit fallout is accounted for. Internal factionalism is growing as the Prime Minister and his advisors pick fights with everyone from party grandees to the civil service. U-turns have come with alarming frequency, undermining any semblance of policy stability. With Brexit delivering a new crop of ‘red-wall’ voters from traditionally Labour constituencies, the Conservative electorate has become a broader church than it’s been for a long time. Keeping the blue flock happy is a tricky task.
Despite these issues, many of the political risks remain broadly bounded. The government is fundamentally stable and is likely to remain so; the chance of a snap election is the lowest in a decade, and the next national vote is in 2024. Brexit risk isn’t unforeseen; a hard deadline at the end of 2020 is the one thing the government have so far remained consistent on. That almost half of businesses haven’t conducted a Brexit risk assessment, therefore, looks like a strange oversight. Internal Conservative party affairs will probably mean more policy deviations for a while. Greater overall political stability means the British will need to get used to it.