Brexit: What the outcome of a general election could be, according to latest polls

After a showdown between prime minister Boris Johnson and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit, the UK appears on course for an election in a matter of weeks


After a showdown between prime minister Boris Johnson and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit, the UK appears on course for an election in a matter of weeks.

Much parliamentary action will now play out to determine exactly when the vote will take place. The Government remains eager to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU by 31 October. Oppositions parties are eager to ensure this does not happen in a no deal scenario. But developments at Westminster mean an election at some point soon is almost certain. The key question, therefore, what might the outcome of such an election be in such unpredictable times?

An analysis of the results across 138 polls conducted between 4 November 2018 and 22 August 2019 was carried out in the UK.
All polls contain a combination of information and noise, the latter resulting from errors in sampling, in interviewing and in other factors which are an inherent part of survey methodology. By “pooling the polls” the figure maximises the information and minimises the noise because the samples are very large and rogue polls which happen by chance do not dominate the picture.

Conservatives and Labour

Both Conservative and Labour support declined markedly in the run-up to the European parliament elections on May 23. Since then, Conservative fortunes have partially revived, but party support is only in the low 30% range – nearly 10% less than its vote in the 2017 general election.

Labour is in even worse shape, languishing in the low to mid-20s. Polls on voting intentions go back as far as the 1930s, but it is safe to say that such a car crash in support for both major parties has never been seen before. So we are in uncharted territory.

The major parties’ poll numbers indicate that, in a two-party contest, the apparent “Boris bounce” in Conservative vote intentions would very likely deliver a majority in the House of Commons.

One important reason why Labour has fallen so far behind is the large decline in Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity since the 2017 general election. His approval ratings then were around 45%. But by August this year they had fallen below 20% and are now very stable from one poll to the next. A large majority of voters appear to have reached the conclusion that he is not up to the job of being prime minister. Negative public feelings about Corbyn are bound to be a drag on his party’s efforts to close the gap with the Conservatives.

Lib Dem threat

The real problem for the Conservatives is not Labour but the continuing popularity of the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. The Liberal Democrats are now consistently polling in the high teens – twice what previously had been typical. In the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats’ vote collapsed and the Conservatives took 27 seats from them. While the Liberal Democrats recovered a little in the subsequent 2017 general election, they still only had 12 MPs.

The situation has now completely changed. If the current surge in Liberal Democrat voting intentions holds, there is a good chance that the party will win back all of the seats it lost to the Conservatives in 2015. In addition, the Lib Dems are likely to win extra seats from disgruntled Conservative Remainers who will defect in response to the Conservative’s hard-line stance on Brexit.

It is true that the Liberal Democrats will take votes from Labour as well as the Conservatives, but the policy distance between the Lib Dems and Labour on relations with the EU is now much smaller than it is with the Conservatives. The danger for the Conservatives is that Remainers are likely to vote tactically as a result, supporting the Liberal Democrats in seats in the West Country, for example, and Labour in seats in the North-East and Merseyside.

What of the Brexit Party?

There is a narrative which suggests that Brexit Party support will collapse in a forthcoming election much like UKIP’s did in 2017. But this ignores a key difference between Brexit Party and Conservative supporters. In our national survey conducted shortly after the European elections, 78% of Brexit Party identifiers wanted to leave the EU with no deal. This compared with only 46% of Conservative identifiers who wanted this outcome.

In a rally in London Nigel Farage committed his party to no deal. He was quick to point out that Johnson had voted for Theresa May’s agreement when it came up for a third time in parliament – and was therefore not to be trusted. The prime minister is taking a very hard line against Conservative rebels by threatening to remove the whip from them, but at the same time he is arguing that he wants a deal with the EU – something which is an anathema to the Brexit party supporters.

This lack of trust in the prime minister to deliver a no-deal Brexit puts him in a tricky situation – he needs most of the Brexit Party supporters to produce a no-deal outcome. Given his insistence that he is still seeking a deal with Brussels, Johnson is unlikely to win Brexit Party voters until there is actually a no-deal Brexit.

The Brexit Party will not take seats in a snap election, but it could easily stymie the Conservatives’ chances of winning.

The prime minister has had to seek an early election since the alternative was to stagger on without a majority and with parliamentary action to stop a no-deal Brexit becoming a reality. The campaign hasn’t formally begun yet, but the posturing is underway. The outcome, though, remains very difficult to predict.

An A to Z guide of Brexit terms that have dominated the agenda for the past two years

Article 50

The process that started the ball rolling. Following the Leave vote at the referendum, the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union on March 29, 2017 when Theresa May wrote a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk. Subsection three says that a country can leave two years after triggering Article 50, unless an extension is agreed, of which there has been many.


The backstop is effectively an insurance arrangement required by the EU to prevent customs or border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A bone of contention, the backstop says that until a broader trade agreement is struck between the UK and EU, Britain must remain within the European customs area.

Customs Union

The topic at the heart of discussion about a future relationship between the UK and EU, a customs union is a group of countries which abolish import tariffs and quotas on goods traded among them. The rules of the EU customs union prevent members from striking free trade deals with other countries, which advocates of Brexit have said is among the main advantages.


The Department for Exiting the European Union was formed by then Prime Minister Theresa May less than a month after the Brexit vote. There have been three Brexit secretaries in the last two years; David Davis, who resigned after opting not to back Mrs May’s plan, Dominic Raab, who left for similar reasons, and Stephen Barclay, who holds the post currently.

European Research Group

A group of Conservatives who are defined by their strong Eurosceptism and formerly led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG previously favoured a looser Canada-style free trade agreement but many members have said they would be content to see a no-deal Brexit if that proves impossible.

Fixed-term Parliaments Act

A law introduced in 2011 which changes the way general elections are called, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act means the power to call a nationwide poll is no longer in the hands of the prime minister. To call an election, two-thirds of the House of Commons need to back the idea.

Great Repeal Bill

The idea of a Great Repeal Bill was first mooted by Mrs May in 2017, which would see EU law transferred onto the UK statute book to ensure what David Davis called “a calm and orderly exit”. In the end, the law was renamed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and has been amended to reflect the delayed exit day.

House of Commons

The site of most of the Brexit drama of late and that to come, the House of Commons will be where a potential delay to Brexit will be discussed, a potential general election voted on and all before it is closed down next week.

Independence Day

First it was March 29, then it became either April 12 or May 22 and now Britain is due to leave the European Union on October 31.


Britain has been warned that it will be forced to pay a £39 billion “divorce bill” to honour commitments made during its EU membership but Mr Johnson has said the money would not be due in the eventuality of a no-deal Brexit. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, has warned: “If the UK doesn’t pay what is due, the EU will not negotiate a trade deal.”

May’s deal

Also known as the Chequers Agreement, the so-called May deal was a white paper for the future relationship between the EU and UK covering economic partnership, security, cooperation and institutional arrangements, and committed to no hard border between the UK and Ireland. It was rejected by the EU in September 2018 and a new withdrawal agreement and a political declaration was rejected in the Commons.


Should Britain and the EU fail to reach an agreement before the egg-timer runs out, Britain will leave on a no-deal basis. May said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, but businesses have expressed concern about the impact of a cliff-edge Brexit.


European Union law is in place across all member states, but certain opt-outs have been granted over time. The UK and Ireland were granted one to not enforce the Schengen Agreement which abolished border controls within member states, while the UK was also granted an opt-out from the Economic and Monetary union which led to the euro.


The term for the formal end of the parliamentary session, which was widely used last week when Mr Johnson said he would bring an end to the parliamentary term in September. While Parliament is prorogued, MPs and peers cannot formally debate policy and legislation or make any laws of their own.

Queen’s Speech

The start of the parliamentary term where the sovereign reads the plans for the government in the forthcoming year. The Queen’s Speech was cancelled in 2018 with Andrea Leadsom saying it would give “MPs and peers the maximum time possible to scrutinise legislation taking the UK out of the European Union”.


The Article 50 letter can be withdrawn by the UK unilaterally, without the need for EU agreement, leaving Britain free to continue as a member on its current terms. A petition set up to halt the Brexit process garnered six million signatures.

Standing Order Number 24

SO24 was used by the cross-party group to seek an emergency debate which, following a successful vote, allowed them to control the Commons business on Wednesday, guaranteeing time to debate a new law to block a no-deal Brexit.


The negotiated Withdrawal Agreement included a transition period of two years where the UK would move from being an EU member state to being outside. In one draft of the agreement, the transition period would run until December 2020 and could be extended by up to two more years. During this period, the UK would have to abide by EU laws but have no seat at the table. It would not apply in the event of a no-deal Brexit.


The continuing debate about Brexit has raised questions about the future of the Union after Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for remain while Wales and England voted to leave. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should have the “right to determine our own future”.


Any extension to Brexit has to be agreed unanimously by the heads of state of the remaining 27 countries, with all having a veto. Equally, should an independent Scotland attempt to join the European Union at a future date, then this decision would have to be agreed unanimously.

WTO Rules

Should the UK leave without a deal, the legal basis for the free movement of goods between Britain and the EU would disappear and instead the UK would have to abide by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This would mean a new tariff regime as well as new customs and regulatory checks.

X-Cross party agreement

There have been a number of examples of parties working together to further their cause for either Leave or Remain: the Green Party and Plaid stood aside to give the Liberal Democrats a better shot at the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, while there have also been calls for the Brexit Party to join forces with the Tories in the event of a general election.


A codename used by the Government relating to no-deal planning, Operation Yellowhammer detailed the “most likely aftershocks” of the UK crashing out of the EU. Published by The Sunday Times, the documents warned that Britain would be hit with a three-month “meltdown” at its ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine if it leaves without a deal.

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