Gamble on the Thames
The Brexit saga takes a twist with a snap election
British Prime Minister Theresa May proposed an early election Tuesday, approved by Parliament on Wednesday, for June 8, a mere seven weeks from now. Her ostensible reason was to provide herself, if her Conservative Party improves its position in the elections, a more unified British front in the next two years of negotiations with the European Union over the terms of Britain’s exit and, possibly, its post-departure relationship with the 27 partners in the EU. Last June’s referendum on EU membership produced a fairly close, 51.89to-48.4 percent vote in favor of scission.
It is also perfectly clear that Ms. May, basking in good favorability numbers as prime minister, wants to take advantage of the general disarray among the rival parties to her Conservatives — Labour and the Liberal Democrats — and also to clean up some of the opposition to Brexit within her own party at the polls. In that regard she resembles her predecessor, David Cameron, in seeking to improve her own personal position within her own party and with the British electorate in general through Brexit-based maneuvering.
Ms. May had previously pledged not to call elections until 2020, when they would normally be scheduled.
Based on the polls, Ms. May and Conservatives will probably win, although any elections entail risks. One of these is that the British electorate will prove cantankerous in the wake of three elections in three years, manifesting its discontent in a low turnout, thus making the outcome less certain and less reflective of their real wishes.
An unpredicted, difficult-to-gauge possible outcome would be a defeat at the polls for Ms. May and the Conservatives, thus weakening instead of strengthening her position in the Brexit negotiations, possibly putting the United Kingdom’s Liberal Democrats, opposed to Brexit, in a stronger position in national politics, and perhaps even forcing her to resign for her bad judgment in calling the elections in the first place. Ms. May came to power when Mr. Cameron resigned over the referendum defeat last year. He had used it as an attempt to strengthen his political position.
Hanging over the whole attitude of the British toward stepping back from European unity at this point are some of the celebrations of World War I underway. One of the objectives of the EU was to put a definitive end to the European wars of the 20th century that came close to wrecking the place economically and politically. One of the downsides of Brexit also is that it risks peeling Scotland and Northern Ireland, which oppose the move and voted against it last year, off of the United Kingdom.
The United States continues to favor maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom. It is difficult to say in current American political circumstances whether the United States favors Brexit. It certainly favors a harmonious dissolution, if it is chosen to occur. At this point the impact of what happens in the United Kingdom June 8 on other upcoming European elections, in France and Germany, is virtually impossible to judge, although the world will get a first glance when the first round of the French elections occurs Sunday.