LONDON: Britain’s parliament votes Wednesday on holding a snap election in June, as Prime Minister Theresa May seeks to make strong gains against the opposition before gruelling Brexit negotiations.
May, who made the shock call for an early election on Tuesday, needs to bolster her narrow majority of 17 seats ahead of likely tortuous talks with Brussels that could re-open old wounds within her Conservative Party.
“I believe this will strengthen our hand in negotiations,” May told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, arguing that opposition parties were “intent on frustrating the Brexit process”.
May had for months ruled out an early election, but switched tack saying it was needed for “certainty and stability” ahead of the Brexit negotiations.
The small Liberal Democrats opposition party is hoping to emerge as a haven for pro-European voters distraught after last June’s referendum to quit the European Union, gearing up to campaign against a “hard Brexit” that would take Britain out of Europe’s single market.
But experts say the main opposition Labour Party is in a weaker position ahead of the proposed June 8 election, bitterly divided over both its leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn and how to respond to Brexit.
Opinion polls put the Conservatives — who currently hold 330 of parliament’s 650 seats — well ahead of Labour, who have 229.
Three polls released over the weekend show May’s Conservatives about 20 points ahead.
May, Britain’s second female prime minister, who took over last summer following her predecessor David Cameron’s failure to convince voters to back the EU, also appears to have won strong popular support for her handling of the political earthquake unleashed by Brexit.
“May heads for election landslide,” read The Times’ front page on Wednesday.
The Telegraph reflected the nation’s surprise at the imminent election: “May’s bolt from the blue”.
For Michael Hewson, an analyst at CMC Markets, the elections could also help May by “diluting the influence of the more extreme elements of her own party on the Brexit process”.
Labour’s embattled Corbyn, meanwhile, faces speculation that a dismal performance in the election would spell the end of his time at the helm of the fractured 117-year-old party.
So far, Labour’s stance has been to allow the government to go ahead with the EU divorce — but only under certain conditions, such as retaining strong economic ties with the bloc.
That approach has left neither of the party’s key constituencies particularly happy.
“Core voters in the north who voted for Brexit are not convinced, and metropolitan liberal voters aren’t convinced by that either,” political expert and author Eliza Filby told AFP.
Many of Labour’s traditional working-class supporters voted to leave the EU, particularly in areas that have experienced a large influx of eastern European immigrants in recent years. – AFP
Story first published: 20th April 2017