Given that she had ruled out a snap election on several occasions, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on Tuesday caught most people by surprise.
As the House of Commons a day later endorsed the advancing of the election, due in the normal course in 2020, by a thumping 522 votes for, and just 13 against, she appeared to have everything going for her. It was very different last summer when Ms. May was chosen by the Conservatives to occupy 10 Downing Street after Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down after the ‘Brexit’ referendum. The Tories were smarting from internecine battles.
Some of these feuds in fact were so brutal that she was not spared personal attacks relating to her health and family, matters wholly unrelated to her politics and suitability for being head of government. But since then Ms. May has come a long way, establishing a firm hold over the party apparatus. The few remaining members of Parliament from the pro-Europe camp have been further marginalised. Potential troublemakers among eurosceptics have also been kept in check. Ms. May now feels it is time to erase the perception that she is an unelected Prime Minister. The only real hurdle she had encountered to her Brexit plan was the legal challenge demanding a formal parliamentary authorisation of the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU.
But what little resolve remained in the two Houses to secure guarantees for immigrants from the bloc and a demand for legislative approval of the final deal was met with strong resistance from the government. The announcement by the Scottish National Party of a second referendum on independence only delayed by a few days the start of the formal process of withdrawal from the EU.
The scope for the U.K. to bargain for a reasonable deal with the other 27 countries in the EU appears to be extremely limited. As the 2019 countdown has begun, there is now greater appreciation in London of this emerging scenario than there was a few months back. Chances are that EU law will continue to operate in several areas, long into a transition period after London formally leaves the bloc in March 2019. A possible extension of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or further inflows of EU immigrants, will test eurosceptic silence. It is likely that the advantage of facing the electorate ahead, rather than in the immediate aftermath, of the conclusion of an uncertain final Brexit deal influenced Ms. May in taking the decision to hold a snap poll. The timing is not all bad from her point of view.
At the hustings on June 8, the voters face a choice between a demoralised and directionless opposition and a government obliged to deliver on their referendum decision last year to leave the EU. As the latter is now a fait accompli, a voter rethink on the question is almost of little consequence. For Britain’s Labour Party, the challenge could not have been stiffer.
The Hindu, April 20, 2017