LONDON: Voters go to the polls on Thursday in an election that will pave the way for Brexit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson or propel Britain toward another referendum that could ultimately reverse the decision to leave the European Union.
This will be the fifth major vote in the country in less than five years including two previous general elections, European Parliament elections and the Brexit referendum a sign of how chaotic British politics have become.
After failing to deliver Brexit by an Oct. 31 deadline, Johnson called the Dec. 12 election to break what he cast as political paralysis that had thwarted Britain’s departure and sapped confidence in the economy.
More than 4,000 polling venues across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including a windmill, several pubs, a hair salon and a chip shop, open their doors at 0700 GMT for a day of voting until 2200 GMT.
All eyes will be on the winter weather, with forecasts of near-freezing temperatures, rain and even snow that could affect turn-out in the first December election in nearly a century.
Looking to stop Johnson is the main opposition Labour party.
Victory would make its 70-year-old leader Jeremy Corbyn the first Labour prime minister since Gordon Brown in 2010 and the oldest first-time premier since Viscount Palmerston in 1855.
Corbyn is proposing to renegotiate softer exit terms with Brussels within three months and put them to a new referendum, alongside an option to remain in the 27-member bloc, after a three-month campaign.
A franchise extension would enable millions of EU nationals in Britain to vote in the referendum.
Corbyn said Britain was at a crossroads and the election was “truly historic”.
The election features 3,321 candidates — from 18-year-olds to octogenarians — in constituencies covering windswept Shetland off northeast Scotland, to the Isles of Scilly more than 750 miles (1,200 kilometres) away off Cornwall, in southwest England.
The first indication of the overall result will come in an exit poll at 2200 GMT. The first actual result is due from around 2300 GMT. The remainder will trickle in overnight.
Johnson has hammered home his message to “Get Brexit Done” against a backdrop of voter fatigue at the election — the third in less than five years — and the tortuous Brexit process.
But the EU itself has indicated the chances of securing a comprehensive trade deal before a December 2020 deadline is unrealistic.
That would again raise the prospect of Britain facing a “no deal” scenario, plunging business and the British economy into fresh uncertainty.
Corbyn, meanwhile, has had to brush off claims of indecision about his neutral Brexit stance, and claims of anti-Semitism within Labour.
Questions have also been asked about the cost for his radical leftist programme for massive public sector investment and renationalisation of some key sectors.
He has positioned Labour as the only defender of the UK’s cherished state healthcare system that he alleges Johnson wants to sell off in a “toxic” post-Brexit trade deal with US President Donald Trump.