On the steps of Downing Street on the first working day since the Easter holiday, Theresa May made the shock announcement that she was calling a snap general election. Ostensibly the main reason for doing so was to create parliamentary unity in support of Brexit. To many this was a surprising reason, as Parliament had overwhelmingly voted to start Article 50 proceedings (with the help of Labour’s three line whip). With the exception of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the odd rebel, there was overwhelming parliamentary support for Brexit.
This wasn’t about improving ‘parliamentary unity’, it was about buying herself time to win the next general election.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), introduced in 2011 by the coalition government, states that general elections should take place every five years, therefore the next general election would have been in 2020. Inconveniently, a year after the end of the Brexit negotiations. Although it is likely a trade deal will take longer than this to conclude, the bulk of the divorce proceedings will have finished.
I think it would be fair to say the beginnings of the departure proceedings have not gone to plan. Since the 29th of March, the EU has said there will be no dual negotiations, and that Spain may have a veto on Gibraltar based agreements.
So far, not so good. As we approach the first month since the triggering of Article 50, things will get worse before they get better. Theresa May and her team are not stupid; it would be easier to fight an election in 2022 (assuming the FTPA is not overruled again), three years following the end of the negotiations.
The Conservatives pride themselves on being the party of economic and political stability. Just days into the new election and leaflets are already being distributed with warnings of an ‘SNP coalition of chaos with Corbyn and Farron propping it up’. The same rhetoric used to win the 2015 election. A period of severe instability would undermine the electorate’s belief in the Tories as a safe pair of hands. If you hold a general election several years after a sticky period, you give yourself the opportunity to overcome any issues, giving yourself greater credibility, and allow time for the electorate to forget the issues they experienced.
I of course make the assumption that things will go horribly wrong as Brexit pans out. For what it’s worth I don’t think the UK will implode and it is likely Britain will get a deal with the EU. Whether it is a good one remains to be seen, but the chances that it could turn sour should not be underestimated. It will not be an easy period to be in government. There are undoubtedly other reasons why the Prime Minister would call an election (just look at the polls), but she is intelligent enough to identify an opportunity to consolidate power for 10 more years. This is the likely fate for the United Kingdom.