“What’s interesting is what is not being talked about.”

Picture showing a sign that reads General Election 2024 with Big Ben in the background

Professor of European Law and Governance Mark Dawson comments on the upcoming UK election.

On 4 July, citizens of the UK will be heading to the polls to vote in a general election which is expected to end in a landslide victory for the centre-left Labour party. What are (and are not) the big issues in the upcoming election? Is the UK really as bad off as it seems? And how could things change with a new government? Mark Dawson, Professor of European Law and Governance and Co-Director of the Hertie School’s Jacques Delors Centre, comments. 

What are the big issues in the upcoming UK general election?

Not that different from those we saw in the previous European elections: the cost of living, public services and, particularly for the right, migration are the major issues. What is also interesting, however, is what is NOT being talked about. UK–EU relations and the Gaza conflict both fall into this basket in that both major parties, largely for intra-party reasons, have strong incentives to avoid them. This opens up opportunities for smaller parties and partly explains the declining vote-share of the Labour–Tory duo.

The UK is plagued by low economic growth, poorly functioning public services, and decreasing purchasing power. Why is the country in such a state of disrepair?

Is it? Certainly, British voters are seriously unhappy with the state of the UK, and they blame successive Conservative governments for it. Looking more comparatively in Europe, Britain’s problems – low productivity, stagnating growth and concerns about housing, affordability and social cohesion – look a lot like what other European nations are dealing with. Brexit has deepened these challenges, as have some truly catastrophic decisions like the Truss mini-budget. But it’s not entirely impossible that things will look different in the medium term. The UK still has many comparative advantages, such as for example its ‘global’ language, a strong financial and cultural sector, and a better record on advancing immigrant communities than other European countries. 

What role did Brexit play in the UK’s current economic situation?

There is strong evidence by now that Brexit has created headwinds for the UK economy. Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility observes a 15% decline in exports and a 4% annual productivity drag.1 Meanwhile so-called Brexit opportunities such as new trade deals have had a negligible impact and have certainly been outweighed by the costs of exiting the existing EU commercial policy and customs union.

According to election forecasts, Labour is poised to usher the Conservatives out of power. What changes would a Labour government bring to the country?

From the perspective of today: not much. Labour leader Keir Starmer is following the model of Tony Blair, whose 1997 landslide winning programme consisted of a series of five promises that could fit on a tiny ‘pledge card’. In reality, however, Blair orchestrated major domestic changes, from devolution to Scotland and Wales and a massive re-organisation of the NHS to a new peace agreement in Northern Ireland and the UK Human Rights Act. Starmer’s commitment to meeting tight Tory spending rules in the first term of a Labour government will limit his policy ambitions in any area that requires investment. The hope, however, is that lowering inflation and greater investor confidence might allow him to, like Blair, exceed expectations.

Is there any chance that the UK could rejoin the EU if Labour wins?

Certainly not in the first term of a Labour government. In the medium to long term, who knows? As of today, Labour seems on course for an eye-watering majority. While that would give Starmer some room for manoeuvre, he will have eyes on a second term and maintaining the Brexit voters who fled Labour in the 2019 general election. Recently, Labour’s likely Chancellor Rachel Reeves has talked up some changes to the UK–EU agreement, for example, more convergence in the food sector, as well as the need for a new security pact (which a Trump election would make far more urgent). Labour will also face pressure from its left wing in a new Parliament, as well as the Green and liberal parties, both of whom will push for re-joining in the medium term and will likely have more of a platform to challenge the (regrettable) absence of Europe as a topic in mainstream politics. Not just younger voters but all generations of Britons increasingly view Brexit as a costly error, so all is not lost!


Mark Dawson is Professor of European Law and Governance and Co-Director of the Hertie School’s Jacques Delors Centre. He is also theme leader for the CIVICA university alliance’s research focus area Europe Revisited.


Views expressed by the interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.

1 https://obr.uk/forecasts-in-depth/the-economy-forecast/brexit-analysis/#assumptions

More about our expert

  • Mark Dawson, Professor of European Law and Governance