- The UK has a general election on December 12.
- The major parties all have radically different policies on everything from Brexit to health to foreign policy.
- Here is Business Insider’s guide to how their policy agendas compare.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The United Kingdom has a December 12 snap general election that could define the future of the country for decades to come.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is leading the polls, ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, with Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats also set to make gains.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party government is also expected to perform well with both Labour and the Conservatives at risk of losing seats.
The four parties have radically different policies on issues including Brexit, the economy, healthcare, policing, and foreign policy.
With a voter-registration deadline of 11:59 p.m. GMT on Tuesday, voters have a huge decision to make about the future of the country.
Here is our guide to the key policy differences between the major parties in this election.
- Promise to take the UK out of the European Union by the end of January.
- Leave the EU single market and customs union and take back control of immigration rules.
- Negotiate a free-trade deal with the EU by December 2020.
- Rule out any further extension of the Brexit transition period beyond that date.
The Conservative Party has promised to “get Brexit done” by the end of January if it is elected to form the next government. To achieve this, Johnson will need a parliamentary majority for his Brexit deal with the EU.
Jill Rutter, a Brexit expert at the think tank UK in a Changing Europe, told Business Insider that this timetable was “doable,” particularly as Parliament had already agreed to the deal in principle. Rutter, however, described the party’s pledge to negotiate a free-trade deal with the EU before the end of December as “a huge ask.”
“There are noises out of the European Commission that it might be doable,” she said.
“But, for that to happen, the EU will need to need to be clear on what it’s prepared to give — the UK will need to make some pretty fundamental choices on things like alignment, fisheries, what it wants its future relationship with the EU to be.”
If UK negotiators fail to agree a new trade deal by this deadline, Johnson has pledged that the UK will cut all trading ties with the EU at the end of 2020 and leave without any trade deal in place.
- Promise to negotiate a new “credible” Brexit deal with the EU.
- Once this is negotiated a Labour government would hold a referendum on the deal within six months.
- Voters would have the option to vote to Remain.
- Jeremy Corbyn has promised to stay neutral during the referendum.
Corbyn’s Labour Party would seek a further extension of the Brexit process beyond January 31 to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU. Once negotiated the party has committed to holding a new referendum on the deal with the option of remaining in the EU.
Corbyn has been criticized by some for his refusal to say how he would campaign in that referendum, insisting that he would remain neutral during any referendum campaign.
Anand Menon, the director of UK in a Changing Europe, told Business Insider that Corbyn’s position would be difficult to maintain.
“As a strategy for government, it’s a nightmare. If you think about the optics of Jeremy Corbyn being neutral while at least half his government is going out and trashing his deal, it’s just weird,” he said.
“If you have negotiated a deal, you’re associating with that deal whether you like it or not. I don’t see how you negotiate a deal and are then neutral.”
- Promise to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit if they win.
- If they fail to win the general election, they will back a second referendum.
- They would invest an estimated £50 billion “Remain bonus” into public services if they stop Brexit.
The Liberal Democrats have pitched themselves as the UK’s chief anti-Brexit party and accused Labour of failing to take a strong enough stance on the issue. The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has promised that if her party forms the next government, it will immediately revoke the Article 50 process for leaving the EU and effectively unilaterally cancel Brexit.
This pledge has proved controversial, but if the Lib Dems fail to win, Swinson has indicated that the party would instead back any plan to hold a second referendum on Brexit instead.
If successful at stopping Brexit, the party says it would be able to invest £50 billion in public services from what it estimates would be the “Remain bonus” experienced by the UK economy from remaining in the EU.
- Hold a second referendum on Brexit.
- Campaign for Scotland to retain close ties with the EU if Brexit can’t be stopped.
- Call for a second Scottish independence referendum to keep Scotland inside the EU.
A majority of Scottish people voted to remain in the EU in 2016, and the Scottish National Party is in favour of stopping Brexit by holding a second referendum. If that is not possible, Nicola Sturgeon’s party is also committed to campaigning for the UK to retain closer ties with the EU. It points to the decision by Johnson’s government to keep Northern Ireland more closely aligned to EU trade rules than the rest of the UK and is calling for Scotland to be given similar opportunities.
If all that fails, then Sturgeon’s party will again seek independence for Scotland from the EU. Sturgeon has insisted that she will support a minority Labour government only if Corbyn agrees to hold a second independence referendum. She has also promised to make similar demands of Johnson if he remains in government.
Menon of UK in a Changing Europe said that if the Conservatives won the December election, and if the SNP’s support in Scotland remained high, it would be difficult for the next UK government to block a new independence referendum.
“Assuming the SNP do as well as it looks like they’re gonna do, and assuming they do well at the next Scottish elections, it’s going to be very hard to resist that pressure,” Menon said.
Other parties key policies
The Green Party: Campaign to Remain in the EU through a “people’s vote.”
Brexit Party: A “clean-break Brexit” leaving the EU without the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson.
- Promise to rule out any rise to income tax, VAT, or National Insurance in the next five years.
- Raise the level at which people start paying National Insurance.
- Ensure fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business by 2025.
- £100 billion fund for additional infrastructure, including on roads and public transport.
- Control immigration and reduce overall levels.
Johnson has promised to increase public spending after a decade in which Conservative-led governments have cut the public sector.
In particular, he says he will target the spending on new infrastructure, including improving Britain’s broadband connectivity as well as investing in new roads, public transport, and town centres.
Will Jennings of the think tank Centre for Towns told Business Insider that while the Conservatives’ focus on helping Britain’s neglected towns was a step in the right direction, their policies didn’t go far enough to tackle fundamental issues they faced.
“On one level the government’s towns funds is a positive development,” Jennings said. “It recognises that a lot of places have seen a decline in their high streets and local infrastructure. But the obvious issues are that you can’t invest in everywhere, and when you boil it down the money will be relatively short-term.”
He added: “It’s all very well giving little handouts on post and post offices to the electorate to make them feel better, but what we need to do is help these places change the fundamentals of their economic model.”
On tax, Johnson has ruled out raising income tax or National Insurance rates and has promised to raise the level at which people start paying National Insurance contributions from £8,628 to £9,500, with the ambition of raising it above £12,000 within a decade.
This tax cut would cost about £3 billion.
The party has also committed to reducing immigration levels once Britain leaves the EU, but it has not given a precise target for this.
Other details of Johnson’s spending priorities, however, are thin on the ground in the Conservative manifesto. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Paul Johnson said this week: “If a single budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals, we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government, the lack of significant policy action is remarkable.”
- Promise to nationalise key public utilities including rail, mail, gas, and electric.
- Free high-speed broadband for every UK household.
- A “Green New Deal” funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.
- Scrap Universal Credit and bring in a “real living wage” of £10 an hour.
- Maintain freedom-of-movement rights to and from the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn has promised that his party would dramatically increase government spending after 10 years of a Conservative-led government.
Among the main spending priorities would be a programme of nationalisation of public utilities including the railway network, Royal Mail, and gas and water.
Even more eye-catching is a pledge to nationalise the broadband network and offer free-to-use high-speed broadband to every household in the country.
Another key chunk of Labour’s economic policy is its “Green New Deal,” which would work toward reducing net UK carbon emissions to zero by 2030. The party says it can achieve this through measures including a windfall tax on major oil companies, which it says would raise £11 billion.
To fund its economic programme, the party says it would raise taxes on corporations and the UK’s highest earners. Labour says in total it would raise £83 billion in extra tax revenue by 2023-2024. On immigration, the party is also committed to negotiating the retention of free movement rights to and from the EU.
The pollster Chris Curtis from YouGov told Business Insider that Labour’s policies had generally gone down well with voters.
“Many of Labour’s most controversial policies, such as nationalisation or increased public spending on key services, actually enjoy wide support amongst the public,” he said.
He added, however, that polls showed many voters didn’t believe the party could actually deliver them.
“Popular policies alone are not enough and the party also needs to convince the public that they are able to carry those policies out in a way that is achievable,” he said.
- Scrap Brexit and reinvest an estimated £50 billion “Remain bonus” in public services.
- Run a surplus in the UK finances.
- Thirty-five hours of free childcare for children from nine months.
- Ensure 80% of Britain’s electricity use comes from renewable sources.
The Liberal Democrats have promised to scrap Brexit and use any subsequent boost to the UK economy to reinvest in public services. They claim that stopping Brexit would allow them to spend an additional £50 billion by the year 2024-2025. They call this a “Remain bonus.” The party claims that would oversee a surplus, meaning day-to-day government spending would be lower than money raised by taxes.
Their spending priorities include a pledge to give 35 hours of free childcare to children when they reach the age of 9 months. This will allow working parents to return to their jobs earlier and boost national productivity, the party says. The party is also promising to ensure that 80% of Britain’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030.
- Fight to stop Brexit and remain in the EU single market and customs union.
- Oppose austerity and demand an end to the government’s universal credit system.
- Campaign for a second Scottish independence referendum
Nicola Sturgeon says her party will continue to fight for Scotland’s membership of the EU’s single market and customs union, even if Brexit goes ahead. This would ensure that Scottish businesses maintain frictionless access to the European market.
Sturgeon’s party also remains committed to a new referendum on Scottish independence, which would give the Scottish government full control over Scotland’s economy.
The party says the MPs it has elected to Westminster will also take a stand against government austerity and protect what it describes as Scotland’s “fair and progressive” tax system.
On the benefit system, SNP MPs will demand that the UK government immediately halt the rollout of the Universal Credit benefits payment system.
On the environment, the party is also pushing for Scotland to be carbon neutral by 2040 and has vowed to oppose all proposed fracking projects in Scotland.
Other parties key policies
The Green Party: A “Green New Deal” to make the UK economy environmentally sustainable.
Brexit Party: Secure a “Brexit dividend” by leaving the EU that they claim would boost the economy by £200 billion.
- Increase NHS spending after 10 years of real-terms cuts.
- Refurbish six hospitals and fund planning to refurbish a further 34.
- Grant free parking at hospitals for some patients and staff.
Johnson’s party plans to spend an extra £33.9 billion on the NHS by 2023-2024 which amounts to just over £20 billion, once you factor in inflation. This would be the biggest cash boost for the NHS in a decade. This money would be spent on a hospital refurbishment programme as well as on training more medical staff.
On the latter, Johnson has committed to recruiting “50,000 more nurses” to the NHS. It has since emerged that not all of the 50,000 nurses would be new recruits, however, as about 19,000 would be current employees of the NHS.
Johnson also plans to bring back the nursing bursary after the Conservative government scrapped it three years ago and to scrap parking fees for NHS staff and some patients.
In a controversial move, Johnson has said he would make it more expensive for foreign residents to use the NHS. The party wants to charge each migrant worker £600 a year to use NHS services. The current charge is £450. Johnson also wants to extend the charge to EU citizens who arrive in the UK after Brexit. At the moment, it applies only to non-EU migrants. Health groups have urged the Conservatives to make NHS staff exempt from the charge.
- Promise to oppose any privatisation or sell-off of the NHS as part of a Brexit deal with US President Donald Trump.
- Invest an extra £26 billion a year in the NHS in England.
- Reduce waiting times and scrap charges for dental checks.
- Increase pay for NHS staff.
- Free parking at hospitals.
Corbyn’s party has sought to make the NHS the main dividing line with the Conservatives and has repeatedly accused Johnson of plotting to sell off the health service to US healthcare companies as part of a post-Brexit deal with Trump. Johnson has strongly denied this, however.
Aside from this, Labour says it will spend an extra £26 billion a year on the NHS in England as part of a “rescue plan” to relieve growing pressure on the healthcare service.
The party says the sums would reduce lengthening delays faced by patients in A&E care, speed up cancer treatment, alleviate the staffing crisis, and improve mental-health care.
Labour also wants to create a “National Care Service” to ensure the elderly receive the social care they need. The party plans to give a 5% pay rise to NHS staff (and all other public-sector workers.) This would give newly qualified nurses an extra £1,200 a year and junior doctors nearly £1,400 more.
The party has also pledged to restore the nursing bursary after the Conservatives scrapped it three years ago. The number of people applying to study nursing in England has decreased by nearly a third since the Tories removed the bursary for trainees.
Labour has also announced a policy of scrapping all charges for dental checkups. The party says this would lead to dentists spotting problems earlier and prevent costly treatment down the line.
- Raise income tax to fund a £35 billion NHS investment programme.
- Spend an extra £7 billion on social care.
- Increase funding for mental-health care.
- A new programme to tackle childhood obesity.
The Lib Dems say they will raise income tax by one penny to give the NHS and other public services in England a £35 billion boost over the next five years. The party says it will spend an extra £7 billion on social care over that time and put a much greater emphasis on mental-health treatment, public health, and staff shortages. Swinson’s party says mental health will be treated with equal importance to physical health. The party also wants to introduce a strategy to tackle childhood obesity.
- A new NHS protection bill to prevent privatisation of the health service.
- £500 million a year extra for GP surgeries by 2021.
The NHS in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish government, so the election won’t have a direct impact on healthcare policy north of the border.
Nonetheless, the SNP has promised to introduce an NHS Protection Bill to stop UK governments from opening up the NHS to American firms in trade talks after Brexit. The party also says it will invest an extra £500 million a year into Scotland’s GP surgeries and health centres by 2021.
Other parties key policies
The Green Party: Increase NHS spending by £6 billion a year.
Brexit Party: Resist privatisation of the NHS and abolish current healthcare targets.
- Promise to increase spending per pupil in both primary and secondary schools.
- Increase salaries for new teachers.
- 250,000 extra childcare places for primary-school children.
The Conservatives have pledged to raise per pupil funding to £5,000 in secondary schools and £4,000 in primaries and have committed to raise the starting salaries for new teachers.
The prime minister’s new flagship education policy is a plan to create 250,000 extra free childcare places for primary school children. It is set to cost about £1 billion over three years.
The manifesto doesn’t offer much in terms of higher education. The Conservatives say they take a look at “thoughtful” suggestions as to how tuition fees could be reformed, but right now the party wants to keep fees at the current level of £9,250 a year.
- Promise to create a new “National Education Service” giving people the right to free education from cradle to grave.
- Scrap university tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants.
- Reduce primary school sizes.
- Remove the charitable tax status of private schools.
Labour has retained its 2017 election pledge to scrap tuition fees and has also promised to bring back maintenance grants for poorer university students. These policies combined would cost about £12 billion.
One of the party’s other new policies is giving six years of free adult education for those who don’t have A-levels or equivalent qualifications. Labour says this would make sure adults would have the opportunity to develop the tools they need to find work in a fast-changing job market.
Elsewhere, the party has promised to reduce primary-school class sizes and provide free school meals to all primary-school children. Corbyn also wants to remove the charitable status of private schools. Currently, private schools enjoy exemptions when it comes to paying tax.
- A £4.6 billion “emergency cash injection” for schools.
- Invest in 20,000 more teachers and new school buildings.
- Create a new “skills wallet” to fund adult education.
The Liberal Democrats have promised an “emergency cash injection” for schools as soon as they get into government. The party would pump £4.6 billion into English schools in 2020. This figure would rise to £10.6 billion by 2024-2025. They would use this money to hire 20,000 more teachers, improve school buildings, and give more children free school meals.
One of the party’s flagship policies is the “skills wallet.” The Liberal Democrats have pledged to give every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives. Each adult would receive the £10,000 in instalments at the ages of 25, 40, and 55. The party says the policy would make sure people are not shut out from education at any point in their lives.
- Promise to invest £750 million on reducing educational inequality.
- Maintain free tuition fees in Scotland.
- Ensure greater numbers of people from deprived areas attend university.
As with healthcare, Scotland controls its own education policy so will not be directly affected by this election.
The SNP has promised, however, to invest £750 million in reducing the attainment gap between children from the country’s poorest and wealthiest families.
On higher education, the SNP is committed to maintaining free tuition at Scottish universities. However, Sturgeon wants more people from poorer backgrounds to attend university and by the year 2030 wants a fifth of students to be from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland.
Other parties key policies
The Green Party: Increase spending on schools by £4 billion a year.
Brexit Party: Abolish the target to push 50% of young people into higher education and scrap interest on student loans.
- Promise to forge new trading relationships with non-EU countries.
- Negotiate a new trade deal with the US.
- Maintain Britain’s current international defence alliances, including spending on NATO.
- Maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
The biggest challenge facing Johnson if he wins the election will be shaping a new post-Brexit relationship with Britain’s closest trading partners in the EU.
The two sides have very different ideas about how long the next phase of negotiations will take, setting up a conflict that could sour relations. The greatest suspicion among EU leaders is that Johnson would instead seek to realign the UK with the US instead.
The UK in a Changing Europe’s Rutter told Business Insider that European leaders would be keeping a close eye on Johnson to see whether he wanted to stay close with Brussels or align closer to the US.
“The EU will be watching to see how far the UK makes common cause with EU countries, and how far it veers off towards the US,” she told Business Insider. “It’ll be watching the Johnson administration as they think it’s more naturally inclined to the US.”
Aside from Brexit, Johnson has committed to retaining Britain’s defence alliances with the US as well as maintaining its independent nuclear deterrent.
- Promise to cut Britain’s ties with international regimes that breach human rights.
- Stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
- Retain the Trident nuclear deterrent.
- Be a more critical ally of the United States.
Corbyn is a lifelong anti-war activist and has promised to radically reshape Britain’s foreign agenda if he enters Downing Street. Labour has pledged to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of human-rights abuses in Yemen, forge closer relations with Iran, and “immediately recognise the state of Palestine.” The Labour leader is a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons. Labour’s manifesto, however, is committed to renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident.
Corbyn, who has long been critical of US foreign policy, would also strike a markedly more hostile tone toward Washington than his predecessors. He has criticised Trump’s tweets as “racist” and insisted that the British government should do more to “stand up” to him.
- Promise to prioritise Britain’s relationship with the EU.
- Oppose Trump’s “authoritarian” leadership.
- Retain Trident.
- Maintain Britain’s defence spending.
The Liberal Democrats say the UK should stop being Trump’s “poodle” and instead prioritise its relationship with the EU. Chuka Umunna, the party’s foreign-policy spokesman, said this week that the Liberal Democrats would not let the UK join the US president’s club of “populist, right-wing, authoritarian nationalists.” Like Labour, the Lib Dems want to introduce a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The party would also renew the Trident nuclear weapons system and is committed to spending 2% of Britain’s GDP on defence, as mandated by NATO.
- Promise to build a coalition of support to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent.
- Prioritise Scotland’s relationship with the EU.
- Ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia
“Bairns [babies] not bombs” was a rallying cry of many SNP activists during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign and still summarises the party’s approach to foreign affairs. The party wants to build a cross-party coalition to scrap Trident, whose nuclear weapons have been based in Scotland’s River Clyde for half a century. Like Labour, the party wants to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending an investigation.
Other parties key policies
The Green Party: Promote peace as a key foreign-policy objective.
Brexit Party: Cut the foreign-aid budget by 50%.
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