Monday

27th May 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

  • Theresa May entering Downing Street last July. A decisive election win will give May a personal mandate to negotiate a tough or hard Brexit. (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

Theresa May’s snap election call on Tuesday (18 April) took Westminster by surprise, but it makes a lot of sense.

The official reason May gave for calling the poll is that Britain needs "certainty, stability and strong leadership" in its transition of leaving the EU, but is being opposed by "Remoaners" in Labour, Scotland, and the House of Lords.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Tim Farron will position his Liberal Democrats as the party of the "48 percent" who voted to remain in the EU. (Photo: LibDems/Facebook)

The real reason is that she is confident, understandably, that she can win big.

Most surveys put the Conservatives 15-20 points ahead of a bitterly divided Labour Party, and the Conservatives will expect to secure a majority of over 100.

The obvious accusation is that holding a snap election, having spent months insisting that there was no need for one, is cynical party politics.

Still, if being self-interested and opportunistic were a crime, every politician would be in prison.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act, means that May cannot call an election directly, but getting the support of two-thirds of MPs for a motion to hold a poll will be a formality.

The vote on 8 June will be the first general election in which EU relations will be a dominant issue. In fact, it will be a single-issue election for a single-issue government.

A decisive election win would give May a personal mandate to negotiate a tough or hard Brexit. Despite their dominance, the Conservatives only have a majority of 12 - it would only take a handful of rebel MPs for government to lose key EU-related votes.

A mandate and a big majority negates this threat and would kill off the prospect of Parliament rejecting the terms that May brings back from Brussels.

This would also kill off the idea of a second referendum on the terms of Brexit, and close down the argument that the electorate had not given consent to withdraw from the single market.

Whether voters will be happy with the economic effects of a hard Brexit and a return to World Trade Organisation terms with the EU will be a moot point. No one can say they were not warned.

Labour is trapped

Most opposition parties are happy to fight early elections. It is an earlier than expected chance to obtain power. For Labour, it is more likely a golden opportunity to lose another election.

The best that its beleaguered supporters can hope for is that a defeat would rid them of Jeremy Corbyn’s widely-derided leadership. Labour is polling at around 25 percent, and heading for its worst result in over 80 years.

A reluctant "Remainer", Corbyn will not want to talk about Europe. His reaction statement focused on the government’s economic record of "falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS". These are worthy issues but they have not gained much traction with voters in the 20 months since he became party leader.

In short, Labour is trapped. Most of its MPs and party activists supported the Remain campaign and are bitterly disappointed by the result. Most of the seats it holds are constituencies where there was a majority Leave vote. Since the referendum, Labour has wrestled with this dilemma without resolving it.

By pitching herself so clearly as the prime minister for Brexit, May is also making a move to kill off the UK Independence Party (Ukip).

Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party last month, while one of their Welsh Assembly members, Mark Reckless, defected to the Conservatives. Faced by a Conservative leader who has stolen their clothes, it is hard to see how Ukip can survive.

The 48-percent party

But not everybody will lose. An early poll is a golden opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to recover some of the lost ground from their near wipe-out in 2015, when they slumped from 57 to eight seats.

Their leader, Tim Farron, has positioned his team as the party of the "48 percent" - who voted to remain in the EU - and will expect to recover some of their lost supporters.

If the election makes good sense for English party politics, it is hard to see that a June election will solve the looming constitutional crises in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Scottish National Party will expect to hold most, if not all, of the 56 seats out of 59 that they took in 2015.

Scotish leader Nicola Sturgeon’s vow to protect Scotland “from a Tory party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right” underscores the sense of separation between Tory England and Nationalist Scotland.

There is "no turning back" from Brexit, May said on Tuesday. For the foreseeable future, she is probably correct. The odds are stacked in favour of 8 June entrenching her one-party Brexit state.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

May surprises EU with snap election

The UK prime minister has blamed the parliament for divisions in the country and called for a vote on 8 June, which she hopes will result in a pro-Brexit majority. The EU says the vote will not change its plans.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Don't copy us, we're British

The havoc caused by the unexpected referendum result on June 23 could serve as a stark warning to the EU-27: fail to prepare - prepare to fail.

MPs urge May to put price tag on Brexit

The UK parliament's Brexit committee said that the prime minister's claim that a "no deal is better than a bad deal" for the UK is "unsubstantiated", and called on the government to assess the consequences of leaving the EU.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: Between a rock and a hard place

As EU commission chief Juncker put it, "everybody will lose" if pig-headed nationalism in the UK and the EU led to a messy and expensive divorce. The controversy over Gibraltar doesn't bode well.

Juncker to visit May in London next week

The British prime minister invited the European Commission president for a discussion about the upcoming EU exit negotiations, while she prepares for general elections on 8 June with a "hard" Brexit agenda.

Brexit is about Europe's future as well

Europe must learn the lessons of TTIP and ensure that the negotiations transparently address the broad interests of European citizens, including on climate change and the environment.

News in Brief

  1. Russia-critical banker elected president of Lithuania
  2. Timmermans calls for 'progressive alliance'
  3. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  4. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  5. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  6. Polish ruling party PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  7. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  8. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us