UK General Election: An Early Vote On Brexit?

It would seem that British legislators, whatever their party or persuasion, are ready to see a change at Westminster. In the vote for the calling of an early UK General Election in the 19th April 2017, Members of Parliament 522 for Aye and only 13 for No, thus easily granting the government of Prime Minister Theresa May the ‘super-majority’ she required under the terms of the Parliament Act of 2011. Does this willingness to cast aside the main provisions of the Act, which sought to regulate the term of governments to five years, mark a decisive rejection of this tenet, one of the lynchpins behind the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Alliance government which ruled between 2010 and 2015? Or is it a pragmatic reaction to exceptional political circumstances? Perhaps the UK General Election of 2017 will be seen by history as a triumph of the flexibility of British democracy, of its willingness to adapt and survive in the face of crisis. We can be sure that this is a time of turmoil in the political system. This much has been assured since the controversial and historic Brexit Vote of 2016.

Brexit was such an event itself and also such an outstanding of a wider global backlash against political elites in general – on a par perhaps with the election of Donald Trump’s win in the US Presidential Elections of the same year – which it is easy to forget the more mundane but still important political facts that surrounded it. The government elected in the UK General Election of 2015, David Cameron’s Conservatives who on voting day were granted a small but adequate majority of seventeen, were adamantly opposed to Brexit, campaigned against it, voted against it and defeated in the polls, Prime Minister Cameron resigned. This left his successor, Theresa May, herself an opponent of Brexit, to negotiate the terms of Britain withdrawal from the European Union. She faced this prospect with a government with a small majority and which has been elected on a platform which promised a vote on Brexit, but which favoured the opposing Bremain side of the plebiscite. It can be seen that the government was facing hard negotiation from a position of relative weakness in 2017 and it was to assuage this weakness and to replace it with a strength that was the Prime Minister’s stated reason for her change of heart on calling an early UK General Election.

Up until her announcement of a UK General Election on 18th April 2017, Prime Minister May had always spoken in favour of abiding by the terms of the Parliament Act. Even after the announcement that she would seek the super majority in parliament, Mrs May spoke of this being an unfortunate necessity, a way of strengthening her hand before the serious negotiations for Brexit begin. Indeed a UK General Election in 2017 will allow a further vote on Brexit, not on the subject this time but rather on how it is to be implemented. Certainly, we can expect to hear many different options from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties in the coming six weeks.


(Simon Topliss, Research)

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