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Brexit 2.0? UK PM's call for snap elections effectively a second EU referendum

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 18 April 2017, 19:07 IST
(Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May made a sudden and stunning announcement outside Downing Street on 18 April, calling for general elections to be held on Thursday, 8 June. The statement said that the Parliament will be asked to vote on the initiative on Wednesday, 19 April. This move comes despite May repeatedly saying she was against the idea of an early vote.

One of the reasons for this, May said in her announcement, was that the opposition parties were jeopardising her government's Brexit preparations. Another reason given was that she didn't want to cause instability amidst Brexit negotiations. The snap elections will allow for the Tories to greatly increase the party's existing working House of Commons majority of 17.

If the parliamentary vote goes through - 434 votes are needed - then Parliament would be dissolved by 3 May, 25 working days before the general election. Negotiations for Brexit will also not stop during the elections.

The current political climate

“We need a general election and we need one now,” May said. “I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion but now I have concluded it is the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead.” The decision was a tightly guarded secret and known only to some of her closest aides. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not. Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach. The Lib Dems have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way," she explained while making the announcement.

Recent polls have put the Conservatives about 21 points ahead of the Labour Party, and 32  points ahead of the Liberal Democrats. This comes despite the recent policy blitz by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party. In fact, a poll of polls conducted in March - based on more than 10,000 voters - gave the Tories an 112 seat majority in the House of Commons.

Divided on Brexit

“After the country voted to leave the EU, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership. Since I became prime minister the government has delivered precisely that,” May said. May said that her party was committed to delivering on the June European Union Brexit referendum. This was to be done by making sure the United Kingdom regained control and struck new trade deals.In sharp contrast to May's commitment to Brexit, both Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said they will vote for 8 June elections for the very different reasons . Welcoming May's decision, Farron said,"This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the single market, if you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority."

In sharp contrast to May's commitment to Brexit, both Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said they will vote for 8 June elections for the very different reasons . Welcoming May's decision, Farron said,"This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the single market, if you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority."

“I welcome the prime minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first. Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS," Corbyn said. “In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain.”The Liberal Democrats are hoping that this vote is a second referendum on Brexit. According to sources on The Guardian, the Lib Dems have been preparing for the elections since before the Brexit referendum. "300 candidates selected and many in place for over a year, particularly in the south-west", the report read (

The Liberal Democrats are hoping that this vote is a second referendum on Brexit. According to sources on The Guardian, the Lib Dems have been preparing for the elections since before the Brexit referendum. "300 candidates selected and many in place for over a year, particularly in the south-west", the report read. It also goes on to say that the Lib Dems are claiming that since May's announcement, 1,000 people have joined the party.

Labour is calling an emergency national executive committee in the next few days to draw up plans for candidate selection.

Scot-free?

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister also commented on snap elections. "This announcement is one of the most extraordinary U-turns in recent political history, and it shows that Theresa May is once again putting the interests of her party ahead of those of the country," stated Sturgeon.

"She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour party. That makes it all the more important that Scotland is protected from a Tory party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of the government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process," Sturgeon added effectively sounding the poll bugle herself.

After falling before the announcement, the British pound has risen strongly. It was up by more than a cent against the dollar post the announcement.

First published: 18 April 2017, 18:12 IST
 
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.

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