- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for snap elections to be held June 8, a sharp reversal from her position last fall, when she opted against new elections in the interest of giving the United Kingdom stability.
Now, apparently, another general election is just what the doctor ordered — to ensure a smooth Brexit, and pound an already wheezing Labour Party. But May’s gambit could also give fresh momentum to Scotland’s renewed bid for independence.
May has apparently determined that another election will give her a larger majority to negotiate Britain’s divorce from Europe. Speaking in Downing Street on Tuesday, May said, “Our opponents believe that because the government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.”
Without fresh elections, she warned, “Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”
The pound sterling, amid speculation of a snap election, fell — and then shot up to a ten-week high.
May’s conservative government currently has a majority of 17. And she aims to widen it at the expense of Labour. It might just work: According to YouGov’s recent poll (disclaimer: yes, a poll) 50 percent think May would make the best prime minister, as opposed to just 14 percent who think the same of Corbyn. Another YouGov poll (disclaimer: see above) says 44 percent intend to vote for the Tories, as opposed to just 23 percent for Labour — and 12 percent for the Liberal Democrats, who are looking to bounce back from their dramatic 2015 electoral loss. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron is presenting the election as chance to change the country’s direction.
Still, in a statement, Corbyn said he welcomed “the decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.” Meanwhile, Corbynistas are rubbing their hands at the prospect of purging the party of Blairite moderates — which will likely only push Labour further into irrelevance. For example, the Twitter account “Jeremy for PM” tweeted, “In this election, there is only one genuine alternative to the mendacious establishment: Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist Labour.” That has not seemed to be a winning strategy so far, but Corbyn’s supporters are nevertheless ready to seize this particular day.
Others are decidedly less excited than Corbyn. Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland and advocate for a second Scottish independence referendum, tweeted, “The Tories see a chance to move the UK to the right, force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper cuts. Let’s stand up for Scotland.”
Later, she mocked May’s foot-dragging efforts to put off the Scottish referendum until Brexit is complete. “‘Now is not the time.’ ‘No one wants it.’’Get on with the day job’ All statements that Theresa May must surely now be regretting,” Sturgeon said on social media.
However, the prime minister — who is still likely to be May — needs to approve Sturgeon’s referendum for it to happen, and, charges of hypocrisy aside, she is still unlikely to do so (though she could certainly help Sturgeon’s SNP gain more votes in British parliament in the process).
May needs two thirds of MPs to okay her snap election, and plans to bring it to a vote on Wednesday. And with both Labour and the Lib Dems seemingly looking forward to the opportunity, it looks like May will be focusing not on Brexit negotiations but on the election until early June.
Photo credit: DANIEL SORABJI/AFP/Getty Images