The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called a snap U.K. election in the hope of securing a larger majority in parliament and, with it, her vision of Britain after Brexit. Set for June 8, this election will give the British people the choice of which party they wish to lead the Brexit negotiations and guide Britain into its future outside of the EU.
As formal negotiations over Brexit begin in haste, Theresa May will want to avoid any further delays that could jeopardize her ability to strike a good exit deal.
Although some may argue that calling an election creates just such delays, supporters of the prime minister claim that this UK election will be used to quiet dissenters post-Brexit, according to The Guardian. May herself noted this desire to have more uniform outlook from parliament in her speech outside No. 10 Downing Street.
“The country is coming together but Westminster is not”
Theresa May Changes Her Mind
Previously, Theresa May has said that there was no reason to call a snap U.K. election. Yet, within a year of the Brexit vote, the U.K. public will return to the polling booth once more to vote for who will steer the significant next chapter in British history.
Her speech, delivered outside the prime minister’s official residence, struck familiar tones. She spoke of wanting a “deep and special partnership” with the EU and claimed this Government had the “right plan” to achieve this. She spoke of the other parties jeopardizing the Brexit process. And she delivered the new soundbite about the country coming together that will surely underpin the coming weeks just as “Brexit means Brexit” has been the constant, though ambiguous, message played since she took office.
To say that Theresa May’s decision was a shock to those in Westminster and beyond is something of an understatement. As recently as March 20, the prime minister stated that there was not going to be a general election. Her change of mind was called an “extraordinary U-turn” by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, a feeling reiterated across numerous headlines today.
During 2016, May was clear that a snap election was undesirable as it could only add to the instability caused by the Brexit vote. The prime minister said as much in her first interview as prime minister on The Andrew Marr Show in September 2016.
“I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”
So why has May made this U-turn?
It is clear that Theresa May and her Conservative Party believe they have a strong chance of increasing their majority. Some polls have suggested a huge leap in their majority from 17 to 140 is possible, though others suggest little change to the status quo. In recent times, polls have only been so useful in predicting outcomes, as they wrongly predicted the outcomes of both the Brexit and U.S. elections last year.
Securing such a dominant position in parliament would certainly help May pass new legislation more easily and avoid issues with dissent from other parties as were seen during the “Brexit Bill” negotiations earlier this year. It will also help the prime minister to further her domestic agenda, which includes her controversial grammar school policy.
Will The U.K. Election In 2017 Happen?
Theresa May can feel confident that this U.K. election will indeed take place as planned on June 8, just 51 days after her announcement. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, welcomed May’s decision to call the election, promising to take his party’s message out to “every single part of this country.”
“We are campaigning to win this election, that’s the only question now.”
This support from Labour is important, as calling an election like this is no longer the decision of Theresa May alone. In the previous coalition government under David Cameron, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act decreed that elections should occur every five years on the first Thursday in May. Elections were then due to take place in 2020, 2025, and so on.
Yet the act also included a condition that allowed for the dissolution of parliament, should two-thirds of parliament vote for it. This allows a prime minister to propose an election outside of the fixed term but requires a two-thirds supporting vote from parliament to pass it. If parliament does so, it suggests that enough of the members of the House of Commons agree that an election outside of the fixed term is required. With parliament dissolved, an election is required in order to have a governing party.
With parliament dissolved, an election is required in order to have a governing party to lead the country.
With the support of Corbyn’s Labour, the threshold to successfully pass the motion, 434 votes, should be reached with ease on Wednesday. Theresa May’s Conservative Party account for 331 seats in the U.K. parliament, while Labour boasts 229 members.
Outside of the two main parties, however, attitudes are split on whether this is a good decision.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called Theresa May’s decision a “huge political miscalculation” as well as noting the irony that the prime minister has said recently that “now is not the time” for another referendum on Scottish independence. The other parties in Scotland seem to have welcomed the chance to win back some of the 56 seats the SNP won in a landslide election in 2015, however.
UKIP, who gained the third highest vote share in 2015, yet won only one seat, welcomed the decision to take the party’s “positive message to the country.” Yet leader Paul Nuttall also called May’s decision “cynical” accusing her of being motivated only by the “weakness” of the Labour Party.
The public response appears to be positive to this snap election too. An informal poll on The Telegraph website shows 80 percent of the general public is in support of Theresa May’s decision.
Timeline For UK Election
So, how does Theresa May’s path to the U.K. election work?
On Wednesday, April 19, Theresa May will take the vote to parliament. This will dissolve the sitting parliament on May 3, triggering the next election.
Weeks of campaigning will follow, culminating in the U.K. general election on June 8. Whether or not this move will be viewed as positive in the context of Brexit negotiations and the future of Britain is a question we can only answer in retrospect. Theresa May has made her move; soon the U.K. public will, once more, have their say on the future of Britain.
Whether or not this move to call an election in 2017 will come to be viewed as positive in the context of Brexit negotiations and the future of Britain is a question we will only be able to answer in retrospect. Theresa May has made her move; soon the U.K. public will, once more, have their say on the future of Britain.
[Featured Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]