UK snap polls, May's ticket to Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May has surprised her country and the world by announcing snap general elections on June 8. She had repeatedly said that the elections would be held as scheduled in 2020 only, when her government would have completed its five-year term. But she has now done an about-turn by advancing the elections. Her decision is aimed at strengthening her hand at tough negotiations that the British government will begin soon with the European Union (EU) over Britain’s exit. At present, her situation is rather weak. The Conservatives have only a narrow majority in Parliament. Since becoming prime minister nine months ago, she has been under pressure not only from the Opposition but also her own party backbenchers, who have opposed her position on Brexit issues as well as controversial domestic legislation. The deal she strikes with the EU on Brexit will eventually have to be approved by Parliament, and it is to ensure this, that she is going in for fresh elections. May is taking a calculated risk. Public opinion appears to be with the Conservatives at present. Recent opinion surveys have given the Conservative Party a 21-point lead over Labour, and May, a 37-point lead over Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Six weeks ahead of voting, it is the Conservatives who hold the advantage.

While Labour is in utter disarray, it hasn’t thrown in the towel yet. It is reportedly considering offering voters the chance to have their say on the terms of the Brexit agreement via a second referendum. This could draw the support of anti-Brexit voters. However, a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition may prove more rewarding to both parties. But so far, there are few signs that the two parties will successfully hammer out a pre-poll alliance.

All eyes are on Scotland. Will the Conservatives do well there? The ruling Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) will be seeking to repeat its spectacular performance in the 2015 parliamentary election. It is expected to use the upcoming election to push for another independence referendum. Scottish voters rejected independence in the 2014 referendum but there was a large surge in pro-independence sentiment in Scotland when Britain voted in favour of exiting the EU. Recently, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for another independence referendum, which May ruled out. Will Sturgeon’s framing of the election as a referendum on another independence referendum win the SNP seats? Irish nationalism is surging, too, and is expected to benefit the pro-reunification Sinn Fein. Thus, May could emerge with more seats in Parliament but will have to contend with surging Scottish and Irish nationalism.

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