JIM POWER: Theresa May might buy some time with snap election

Calling a vote while the economy is good makes sense, writes Jim Power.

Over the past year, the UK political landscape has been absolutely and utterly bizarre. This time last year, the country was in the middle of a Brexit referendum campaign that few in the UK really understood. The pro-Brexiteers were making all sorts of outlandish promises of an economic, political, and financial variety that were never going to be delivered. That became apparent once the referendum was over and many of those involved on the pro-Brexit side deserted the ship with undue and indecent haste like scared rats.

Of course, the governing Conservative Party was split down the middle on the issue, as has always been the case in relation to Europe. It, therefore, was incapable of running an effective campaign to stay in the EU. Hence it fell on the Labour Party — led by an individual who had been scathing of almost everything to do with the EU during his political career — to lead the Remain campaign. This was always going to be a recipe for disaster and hence it turned out. David Cameron stepped down as prime minister shortly after the Brexit vote and Theresa May took over. She immediately appointed a rather strange team without the intellectual or ideological capacity to handle the Brexit process and the world has subsequently witnessed a circus.

Then, this week, Ms May shocked the nation with the announcement that she will hold a snap general election on June 8. This is an explicit admission that she will need a stronger majority to navigate what will be an extremely difficult negotiation process with the EU27. It was always going to be extremely difficult for her to get support within her fractured party for whatever deal she managed to negotiate with the EU.

Her hope is that, with a stronger majority, she will be in a better position to push through a deal that would be in the best interests of the UK. Based on current opinion polls, she could well come back with the stronger majority she needs. This would give her a much stronger mandate to negotiate with the EU.

Ms May clearly recognises that it will be impossible to negotiate a Brexit deal within the two-year timeframe set out in Article 50 and to which she pledged adherence to on March 29. Her hope is that she will come back with a strong majority and then admit that the two-year timeframe is not realistic. Hence, the UK would then likely enter into a transitional arrangement with the EU at the end of the two-year period.

During that transitional phase, the UK would likely have access to the EU market and continue to adhere to its rules and make financial contributions, without having any influence over EU policy. The UK would have all of the responsibilities inherent in EU membership without having any of the rights. This period could last for five years or longer — not exactly what those who voted for Brexit envisaged.

The early election most definitely does not suggest that a second referendum would be held. The Liberal Democrats will likely fight the election on that basis, but given that the party currently holds just nine seats in parliament, this possibility is not likely to gain any traction.

The UK economy has held up pretty well since the vote last June, but there is still a strong possibility that the economy could suffer during the Article 50 process as business investment could be damaged by the uncertainty over the future relationship between Britain and the EU. Hence, calling an election when the economy is still doing well looks like a sensible move.

If the Labour Party is trounced in the election it would most likely spell the end of Jeremy Corbyn and the arrival of a new and more sensible leader. This would introduce a new political dynamic to the whole Brexit negotiation process.

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