This morning I was all ready to write about Turkey’s slide towards an increasing dictatorship following Sunday’s referendum that will give even more power to the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The referendum gives him sweeping authority that could potentially keep him in power until 2029.
(And by the way I still want to get to that later this week because it’s so serious and it leads to even further erosion of democracy in the country. It also scuppers any chance of Turkey joining the European Union any time soon.)
But then I saw a BBC news flash reporting that the British PM Theresa May was about to make an announcement. The dizzying speed of serious news breaking so frequently these days makes it challenging to keep up with it all. One day it’s Trump bombing Syria, the next he’s lobbying massive bombs on Afghanistan and threatening North Korea. Then it’s Marine Le Pen vowing to ban all immigration to France. Next it’s Turkey heading for the abyss and now the Brits are shaking things up again.
Shortly after 11am Irish time May emerged from Downing Street’s No. 10 and announced her call for a general election on 8 June.
May’s main reason seems to be that she’s fed up with all of the bickering about Brexit among her political opponents and she wants to put a stop to it once and for all. During her address she said that division in Westminster was risking “our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country”.
She also emphatically stressed that “Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back”.
Presumably today’s big announcement is primarily based on recent opinion polls in the UK that indicate big support for the Conservative government right now despite all of the uncertainty caused by Brexit. A British ComRes poll published over the weekend put the Tories at 46% giving them a 21 point lead over Labour at 25%.
Mind you who can trust opinion polls these days considering the mainstream ones were wrong on both the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. I’m assuming May thinks she’ll get a bigger majority if she goes to the polls sooner rather than later and then she’ll be able to say she has an even stronger mandate to implement her Brexit policies.
She may be right.
Labour is a divided party right now with Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguous attitude towards Brexit at stark odds with others in the party like the London Mayor Sadiq Khan who is a passionate Remainer. And it’s highly unlikely Corbyn will change his stance on Brexit as he has repeatedly said he respects the outcome of the Brexit vote and so presumably he won’t be campaigning to reverse that vote and hold another referendum.
So why would more people vote for Labour? If you were a Remainer then what difference would a Labour vote make if Corbyn promises to maintain the status quo?
May’s gamble may pay off as it’s also extremely unlikely that Labour will change its leader before June 8 considering the party gave Corbyn an even bigger mandate when members re-elected him last September.
So Captain Eurosceptic will be steering the Labour ship when voters go to the polls in less than 2 month’s time.
And what about those of us non-Brits who believe Brexit will be a disaster for the British, the Irish and the rest of the EU? Unfortunately we didn’t get to vote on Brexit despite the enormous consequences it will have on us especially on those of us living in Ireland both north and south of the border.
I’d urge caution against thinking today’s announcement might give us some hope and that it might actually be possible that the Tories will tank in GE17 and that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens will surge and form some sort of a coalition that could prompt another Brexit referendum. If that were to happen then Jeremy Corbyn would have to do a volte face and go against the majority of voters who opted for Brexit last June.
And anyway views on Brexit seem to be hardening in the UK. While there may be plenty of people who voted for Brexit and who are now questioning the wisdom of doing so, there are plenty more who say the Brexit result was the right one and that they’d vote the same way again if given another opportunity. So those political parties who turn GE17 into a campaign to hold another Brexit referendum may be taking an even bigger political gamble than Theresa May.
I think a lot will depend on the kind of political movements that gather momentum in the UK over the next 2 months and that’s very little time to build a dynamic force for change. If Remain groups become energised and use the election campaign as a vote on Brexit then that could result in more support for those parties calling for a soft Brexit and for more lenient exit terms with the EU.
On the other hand, the election could re-energise the Brexiteers to whip up even more backing for May’s hard Brexit position.
Either way, I find it hard to believe that the election will change things so radically that we will see another Brexit referendum that will lead to a recall of the Article 50 axe and an end to Britain’s exit from the EU.
The election will either give Theresa May an even bigger mandate to forge ahead with a hard Brexit stance or it will weaken her position and compromise her ability to deliver a clear-cut policy on Brexit. If she returns to power with a smaller majority she will find it much harder to push through a Brexit that does not encompass the views of the other parties demanding soft Brexit terms if they end up holding the balance of power in Westminster.
That may be the best hope for those wishing the Brexit nightmare never happened.