Earlier today, British Prime Minister Theresa May dropped a surprise on her countrymen and the world when she announced plans to table a parliamentary motion seeking approval for a snap election to be held in the United Kingdom on June 8.
If the motion is approved by two-thirds of the House of Commons under the new Fixed-term Parliaments Act which has introduced a fixed date for general elections every five years, after taking away the longstanding and exclusive preserve of a British prime minister to call an election at any time, the people of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will go to the polls exactly two years and one month after they last voted in a general election.
What could have triggered this unexpected move by Mrs May, especially seeing that she had maintained all along, since taking office less than a year ago, that she was against an early poll? The decision has to do with obvious continuing fall-out from last summer’s Brexit referendum in which a narrow majority voted in support of the U.K.’s withdrawal from membership of the European Union (EU).
Indeed, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the May 8, 2015 general election. Since the historic Brexit vote on June 23 last year, the United Kingdom has pretty much been in convulsion. The first casualty was former Prime Minister David Cameron who took the costly political gamble of calling the referendum, having made such a commitment in the preceding general election.
Having campaigned for a ‘No’ vote on the UK leaving the EU, Cameron was faced with little choice but to step down after the narrow “Yes” result represented a personal defeat. In came Mrs May as his successor, only to face a raging storm of more fall-out, including domestic opposition at the mass level, renewed threats by Scotland to leave the UK and initiating what are likely to be tough negotiations with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure.
In announcing the proposed election date, Mrs May suggested the decision was influenced by parliamentary opposition to her efforts to provide the UK with “certainty, stability and strong leadership” during the transition period. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not,” she said. “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.”
Is this the real reason or is there more than meets the eye? Are the opposition parties being used as a convenient scapegoat? There is that possibility. However, seeing that the UK economy has become so integrated with Europe as a result of its 44-year membership of the continental integration project, could it be that the scale of the unfolding economic dislocation is presenting a really frightening picture for Mrs May and her Conservative government?
Commenting immediately after the Brexit vote last year, Antiguan diplomat and Barbados TODAY columnist, Sir Ronald Sanders, had this to say. “The entire episode is a calamity, built less on any insurmountable issues between Britain and its 27 partner-countries in the EU, and more on the narrow objectives of a few British politicians who sought to advance their own ambitions by preying on nationalist sentiment, racial bigotry and even nostalgia for past glories of Britain as a dominant power in the world.”
If the magnitude of the UK’s self-inflicted marginalization has now fully hit home for the Conservatives, it could be that the election is seen as a hopeful exit route, provided that the incumbent loses, of course. The latest polls, however, show the Conservatives with a healthy lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party which has said it will support the motion for an early general election to consult the people.
“Every step of the way, Labour has sought to put the national interest first and to build a national consensus around our future relationship with the EU – not as members, but as partners,” said Keir Starmer, the shadow Labour Brexit secretary. “That is why Labour did not frustrate the article 50 process in parliament. ….
This general election is a result of the prime minister’s failure to build a
Political observers naturally will be closely monitoring developments over the next month and a half to see how the pendulum swings. Whatever the outcome of the general election, Brexit is irreversible which means the UK is left with no choice but to lie down in the bed which it prepared for itself. It is too late to turn back the hands of the clock.