What the 2017 Snap Election means for Brexit

Despite repeatedly claiming that she wouldn’t do so, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election to be held this year on June 8th. It’s apparent that the election appears to have been called by May in order to stamp out any remaining pro-European Union Members of Parliament, while also securing an electoral mandate for her position as Prime Minister (and the Brexit deal she negotiates) since she never took power in a general election. While initial polls predicted that the Conservative Party would severely weaken the already feeble Labour Party opposition, the Tories’ lead on Labour has shrunk considerably since the snap election was first called. Additionally, the Tories might lose many of the seats they had claimed from the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 General Election, losing their already very slim majority. But, will this election actually affect how the United Kingdom will leave the European Union? All things considered, probably not.

The political opposition in Britain is in shambles. Notwithstanding the very vocal support he receives, Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party, has had a disastrous effect on Labour’s popularity. He was originally elected because he was a member of the so-called “Hard Left,” meaning that, as a radical Socialist, he would oppose every policy the Tory government would enact. Unfortunately for more moderate and pro-EU Labour supporters, even though he claimed to be a supporter of Britain remaining in the EU, his true guiding ideology – Euroscepticism – seems to guide his vapid opposition and oversight of Theresa May’s Brexit plans. Although his supporters fanatically ignored the fact that he was partially to blame for the 2016 EU Referendum result, some have since become more ambivalent, especially after Labour’s historic defeat in the Copeland by-election. Ironically, just like most of Corbyn’s supporters, the right-leaning British news media has labelled the 2017 Labour Manifesto as “radical”, despite the fact that his policy proposals would be considered mainstream in other European countries. Furthermore, Corbyn might have potentially influenced the light punishment for Ken Livingstone after the latter’s anti-Semitic comments, which has further damaged the party’s reputation. As a result of his major incompetence and his alienation of more pro-EU Labour voters, Corbyn’s Labour has become more like an echo chamber than a political party engaging in electoral outreach, and because they didn’t want to alienate their constituents (who likely voted for Corbyn), the Parliamentary Labour Party had no choice but to follow his lead. With this election, even with Labour’s gains in opinion polls, many Labour seats are at risk, since pro-EU voters still find Corbyn’s brand to be unappealing. In fact, most of Corbyn’s critics within the Labour Party are in areas that are most threatened by the Tories, so it actually benefits Corbyn (but not the party) to guide Labour to its own defeat.

The vehemently anti-Brexit Labour voters have since shifted their support to the Liberal Democrats. Unashamedly pro-EU, the Liberal Democrats have had a remarkable surge in support following the EU referendum. The Liberal Democrats have ruled out joining a government coalition with either the Tories or Labour, and stating that they intend to be the main opposition party. Tory seats won in the 2015 election from the Liberal Democrats are now likely to be contested, which could potentially cause a minority Tory government to be formed. And, as mentioned before, voters fleeing from Corbyn’s Labour have decided that the Liberal Democrats better represent their views. Consequently, regardless of their very weak position in the House of Commons with only 9 seats, once the snap election was announced, Liberal Democrats membership skyrocketed to over 100,000, its largest number in history. If this trend continues, it is entirely possible that the Lib Dems might be able to win more seats from both the Tories and Labour than originally projected.

But ultimately, unless a new government that reverses Brexit is formed and/or a Progressive electoral alliance is negotiated (which more than likely won’t change the results), the chances of the election actually affecting the final Brexit deal are very slim. Guy Verhofsdat, the lead negotiator of Brexit on behalf of the EU, has pointed out the likeliest outcome of adding more Tory MPs would neither change the EU’s terms nor add (what little) leverage exists for the UK in the negotiations. In the end, Verhofsdat correctly notes that this election is mostly to silence domestic criticism of May’s EU policies. Even if this is accomplished, however, because May has been so secretive about her Brexit plans, Parliament has little to no idea what she wants, and as a result, they have nothing to hold her accountable to. Therefore, winning more Tory seats is not a matter of securing a better Brexit deal so much as it is to weaken May’s critics.

Francis Shin

Author: Francis Shin

Francis Shin is a student currently majoring in international affairs and history. In addition to his majors' topics, he is interested in international politics, philosophy, theology, and the arts.