The collapse of Brexit and the fall of the Conservatives

Image: James Fried


The Conservatives' future looks bleak. The impending elections could mark not just a defeat but a possible disintegration of the party as we know it

On the verge of a historic defeat in the next elections, the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, finds itself enveloped by the turbulent clouds of the political storm gathering over Great Britain. This is not just a failure of electoral strategy; is the climax of a deep and prolonged crisis that Brexit temporarily disguised, but now returns with devastating force.

The conservative decline

On May 22, under a curtain of merciless rain that punished Downing Street, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the general election for July 4th. This moment marks a grim start to an already reeling campaign, as Rishi Sunak faces not only the raging natural elements but also the political storm that threatens to engulf his party.

Discontent within the Conservative Party, which began as a steady trickle, quickly turned into a deluge of disillusionment. The exodus of 85 Conservative MPs, including prominent figures such as former prime minister Theresa May, veteran Michael Gove and former Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom, sounded like thunder announcing imminent decline.

The Conservative campaign's first political announcement, made by Rishi Sunak on 28 May, regarding the reintroduction of compulsory national service for eighteen-year-olds, was not well received. The lack of coordination within the party was evident when one of Rishi Sunak's ministers ruled out the same policy three days before the announcement. The plan, which suggested severe penalties for those who did not comply, ranging from fines to imprisonment, was widely seen as a desperate attempt to appeal to older, more conservative voters while further alienating young people.

The erratic campaign launch and introduction of unpopular policies mark the chaotic beginning of the Conservative Party's downfall. Since Liz Truss's disastrous forty-nine day government, Keir Starmer's Labor Party, the main opposition party, has maintained a substantial lead in the polls.

Projections on the distribution of seats in the next election paint a bleak fate for the Conservatives. With the record set by former minister John Major in 1997 when the party was returned with 165 seats, losing to the Tony Blair-led Labor Party, analysts predict this year's result will be even worse, with some suggesting a drop to less than 140 seats. A defeat of this magnitude would be catastrophic, raising doubts about the party's ability to recover.

The Conservatives' current decline is the result of a protracted crisis, exacerbated by Brexit, Boris Johnson's leadership, Liz Truss's debacle and Rishi Sunak's time in office. Over the past decade, the party has become increasingly dependent on a coalition of interests, with a core base of elderly voters.

This voter base was protected from the consequences of Conservative policies by the protection of pensioners' income and the political ability to find scapegoats for cuts to public services. However, the loyalty of the elderly electorate is also influenced by social factors such as property ownership and financial stability.

The lack of affordable housing for young people has severed the connection between older age and support for the political right, further weakening the Conservative voter base. While elderly homeowners tend to favor authoritarian and right-wing policies, younger homeowners are being driven away by issues such as unaffordable housing and a lack of economic opportunities.

The mass exodus from the corridors of power is not just a matter of numbers or political statistics; it is a telling symptom of a deeper and more widespread disillusionment that permeates the Tory ranks. It is a clear and unmistakable sign that faith in the party is being eroded to its core. The lack of confidence in the party's ability to regenerate and reclaim its leadership position is palpable, hanging like a dark cloud over Westminster.

Brexit – the broken dream

The referendum on Brexit, which initially offered a breather to conservatives by channeling popular frustration, turned out to be a temporary stopgap. The promises of a rejuvenated United Kingdom, free from the constraints of the European Union (EU), gave way to a chaotic and unstructured reality. O Brexit it exacerbated internal divisions and revealed the Conservatives' inability to offer a coherent and unified vision for the country's future.

In June 2016, the referendum Brexit surprised the world when 52% of British voters chose to leave the European Union. The campaign was marked by promises to regain control of the UK's borders, laws and finances. The slogan “Take Back Control” [taking back control] resonated strongly with voters, especially in areas that felt neglected by globalization and austerity policies.

However, the victory of Brexit It was just the beginning of a complex and turbulent saga. The process of leaving the European Union revealed deep divisions within the Conservative Party and British society in general. Negotiations with Brussels have proven to be more difficult and time-consuming than many proponents of the Brexit predicted.

One of the most critical failures was the lack of a clear and coherent plan for exit. The Conservative leadership, under Theresa May (2016-2019), struggled to articulate a unified vision of the Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May was repeatedly rejected by Parliament, reflecting a lack of consensus on how the Brexit should take.

The rise of Boris Johnson (2019-2022) to the leadership of the Conservative Party and his promise to “Get Brexit Done” [do Brexit] brought a temporary boost. Boris Johnson managed to pass a deal that finally allowed the United Kingdom to formally leave the European Union in January 2020. However, this agreement left many crucial issues unresolved, especially in relation to trade and the Northern Ireland border.

The economic consequences of Brexit were significant and immediate. Uncertainty about future trade agreements has negatively affected investment and business confidence. Economic growth has stagnated, and sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture have faced challenges due to rising costs and the complexity of new trade barriers.

The Northern Ireland border has become a flashpoint. The Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the withdrawal agreement, created a customs border in the Irish Sea, which caused frustration among both unionists in Northern Ireland and British traders. Political and social tension in the region has increased, exacerbating one of the UK's most sensitive and long-running conflicts.

From bad to worse – the end of the line for conservatives

The disorderly implementation of the Brexit and its adverse consequences have eroded the Conservative Party's support base. The promise of a Brexit without complications proved to be illusory, and many voters felt betrayed. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed and amplified flaws in conservative governance, from the initial management of the crisis to corruption scandals involving public contracts.

Public confidence in the Conservative government has plummeted. In subsequent local and regional elections, the party suffered devastating losses. The emergence of new parties and movements, both pro-European Union and far-right, has further fragmented the political landscape.

From Boris Johnson's tumultuous tenure to Liz Truss's brief and disastrous tenure, the Conservatives have consistently failed to deliver stable and effective leadership. Liz Truss, in particular, precipitated an economic crisis with her tax-cutting policies that led to a run on the pound and rising interest rates, exacerbating the cost of living crisis.

Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, has opted for an approach of deliberate inaction, scaling back infrastructure projects and provoking strikes by denying fair pay rises to essential workers. His strategy of reducing the state's role in providing essential services has further alienated working-age voters, who increasingly feel abandoned by a government that privileges the rich and powerful.

With the imminent fall of the Conservative Party, there is a need for deep reflection and strategic reorientation. British politics faces a period of uncertainty, with fundamental questions about national identity, the relationship with Europe and the United Kingdom's role on the global stage.

Nigel Farage's return

Amid the chaos, an old acquaintance gained traction on the UK electoral scene, bringing new and unexpected concern to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: Nigel Farage, the prominent pro-government campaigner.Brexit and anti-immigration, announced that he will lead the party Reform UK and run for Parliament. This announcement, made following a U-turn on his initial decision not to take part, adds a significant complication to Rishi Sunak's campaign.

Nigel Farage, with his populist rhetoric and focus on criticizing elites and mass immigration, promises to be a challenging voice that can attract disaffected voters. He seeks not only a seat in the House of Commons, but also to lead a “political revolt” against the current system, posing a direct threat to the already weakened Conservative Party.

The final collapse – looking for scapegoats

With no substantial achievements to show for it, Rishi Sunak and his party have turned to the familiar tactic of looking for scapegoats – very similar to the action of the global far right. Unable to present concrete results or effective solutions to the challenges facing the country, conservatives resort to divisive and polarizing strategies in an attempt to maintain their support. Anti-immigrant rhetoric, exemplified by the cruel and impractical deportation plan for Rwanda, is one such tactic.

This plan, widely criticized by human rights organizations and migration policy experts, aims to send asylum seekers to the African country in an attempt to dissuade illegal immigration. However, in addition to being morally questionable, the plan is logistically unfeasible and legally controversial, facing numerous challenges in the courts.

At the same time, the inflammatory speech against pro-Palestinian protesters serves as another attempt to divert attention from internal failures. By painting these protesters as a threat to public order and national security, the government seeks to create a convenient internal enemy, capable of mobilizing sectors of the population that feel threatened or uncomfortable by the demonstrations. This rhetoric is often accompanied by repressive measures that seek to limit the right to protest, deepening the perception that the government is more interested in silencing dissent than in solving the underlying problems driving these protests.

However, this strategy of looking for scapegoats appears increasingly ineffective. As voters realize the depth of the Conservative government's incompetence and lack of vision, it becomes more difficult for Rishi Sunak and his party to hide their failures behind incendiary rhetoric.

The structural problems that affect the country, such as the economic crisis, the increase in the cost of living, and the deterioration of public services, are issues that demand real and effective solutions, and the lack of concrete action in these areas is leading to growing dissatisfaction popular. Thus, the attempt to divert attention through divisive speeches is proving to be a weak and increasingly ineffective strategy, incapable of masking the reality of a government that is struggling to present positive results.

The future of the Conservative Party

The Conservatives' future looks bleak. The impending elections could mark not just a defeat, but a possible disintegration of the party as we know it. The inability to attract new voters and dependence on an aging base sets the Conservatives on a path to political irrelevance. The task of reversing this situation is monumental and, with the current leadership, seems almost impossible.

The Conservatives face an existential dilemma: fundamentally reform themselves or face political extinction. History will judge Rishi Sunak and his government not by maintaining a status quo bankrupt, but for its inability to respond to the challenges of a changing Britain. Unless significant changes occur, the party is destined to be remembered as a relic of the past, unable to adapt and survive in a new political and social landscape.

*Bruno Fabricio Alcebino da Silva He is majoring in International Relations and Economic Sciences at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

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