Sunday

25th Jun 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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.

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.

Are MEPs too 'free' to be accountable?

The European Parliament is currently fine-tuning its negotiating position on the Commission's proposal from September 2016 for a mandatory transparency register. Sadly, so far it seems to prefer empty statements to bold action.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement