UK election will help clear the cloud of Brexit

Theresa May is taking a gamble by calling a snap poll, but at least the world will know more about what will come after Britain leaves the European Union

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 2:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 2:13am

British Prime Minister Theresa May is taking a gamble by calling a surprise snap election just weeks before the country begins crucial negotiations on its departure from the European Union. But the risk is a calculated one and the odds are strongly in her favour. Opinion polls suggest May’s Conservative Party will secure a comfortable victory in the June 8 election. The party’s lead will probably narrow during the campaign, but a victory for May and a bigger majority in the House of Commons seems very likely.

This is why she has called the election now. With a slim majority, inherited from her predecessor David Cameron, May faces resistance to her Brexit plans from both opposition politicians and within her own party.

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An election victory would provide her with a mandate and strengthen her hand for the tough Brexit negotiations with the EU that begin that month. She will no doubt also have been influenced by the weak standing of the opposition. The Labour Party is in disarray under unpopular leader Jeremy Corbyn and is expected to lose seats. May will also be aware that Britain’s economy may decline and her popularity fall as the Brexit talks progress. Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019. This would have been uncomfortably close to the original election date the following year, a factor that might have been exploited by the EU as the negotiations reached their conclusion. This way, if May wins in June, the path will be clear for the talks. But every election carries risks. Not all those who voted for Britain to leave the EU in last year’s referendum support May’s vision and the referendum result was close. Many British people remain opposed to Brexit. This may be exploited by opposition parties. The prime minister’s personal standing might also suffer as a result of her decision to call the election. It is a monumental U-turn. She had previously stated categorically that the next election would not be held until 2020.

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The Brexit arrangements have implications not just for Britain and the EU, but for the world. It is to be hoped that May will use the campaign to clearly spell out her plans and that, whatever the outcome of the election, the way ahead becomes more certain.