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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May stunned the United Kingdom last Tuesday when she announced that she had just told her Cabinet of her decision to seek a parliamentary vote to have an early general election on June 8.

A general election was not due until May 7, 2020. However, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, an early general election in the UK is possible based on the provisions of section 2 of that Act which provides for two exceptions to the fixed date (either a formal motion passed by a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the House of Commons seeking an early general election or a successful motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government passed by the House of Commons by simple majority that fails to attract a subsequent majority vote of confidence challenging it within 14 days of its passage).

The United Kingdom had a general election in May 2015 and there was a referendum on Brexit in June 2016. On March 29, Prime Minister May wrote to the President of the European Council invoking article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon thereby announcing officially Britain’s desire to withdraw from the European Union.

She had consistently rejected the idea of another general election before the due date in 2020. However, in more recent times, she formed the view that the forces at Westminster were not aligned in a manner that would permit her enough negotiating strength to carry forward with the secession discussions with Brussels. Her examples of this discord at Westminster ranged from the public views of the Labour Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party, the Scottish National Party and some unelected members of the House of Lords.

Having made the announcement at a podium bereft of the seal of government outside of her official residence at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning, she moved a motion calling for an early parliamentary general election in the House of Commons after Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday afternoon. By a vote of 522 to 13 the resolution calling for an early parliamentary general election was carried (it needed 434 out of the 650 MPs for it to get the requisite two-thirds majority vote). Of the major parties, the Conservatives had 325 of their 330 MPs voting in favour, while the Labour Party was divided with 174 of its 229 MPs voting in favour, nine of their MPs voted against and the rest abstained.

Early opinion polls show that Prime Minister May and her Conservative Party enjoy a twenty-point lead over their nearest rival the Labour Party. The Prime Minister’s calculations are that she will win a very large majority in the House of Commons which will give her a mandate to carry through with some tough negotiations with Brussels in order to implement Brexit.

She has already made her first election gamble outside of calling the date itself and that is her refusal to take part in any televised debates during the campaign.

In my column on April 2, I highlighted the fact that the Brexit secession for the UK had begun. One of the issues that I flagged was the matter of the resolution passed by the Scottish Parliament calling for a referendum on Scottish independence by 2019.

The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already indicated that her Scottish National Party will still make its case for a referendum on independence after the general election. She described Theresa May’s decision to seek this early general election as “a huge political miscalculation”. In the last general election in 2015, the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland and their line on the parliamentary resolution for the early election was to abstain.

This general election is designed to strengthen the hand of the British Government in moving forward with its Brexit negotiations. The SNP is still seeking to have another bite at the self-determination cherry in the midst of this.

The situation in Scotland can be influenced very much by this general election as the SNP have to do as well as or even better than 2015 if they are to press their case for a second referendum on independence. If they should lose ground on June 8 their cause will be hampered and their route to another independence referendum will be more tortuous.

Caricom governments have to keep a close eye on what is taking place in the UK as one does not know if this general election will be turned into a second referendum on Brexit for those who voted in favour remaining in the European Union (about 48 per cent) and whether they may decide where to cast their vote based on which party is most likely to have the softest exit from the EU as opposed to the 52 per cent who voted to leave and would want the firmest possible terms of separation.

The next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting will be held in London during the week of April 16 next year. The outcome of the June 8 general election will determine which British Government policy Caricom countries will engage.


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