United Kingdom: May aims to strengthen negotiating hand with call for June 8 election

Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an early election, hoping to consolidate support behind her as the U.K. Government prepares for two years of Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

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The election would be held June 8. May previously said she did not support an early election, but indicated Tuesday she would push for an election to seek popular support for decisions she will make in negotiating the U.K.’s departure from the EU.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” May said, criticizing the Brexit posture of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.

Key points:

  • May’s push for a snap election requires the support of two-thirds of MPs. Parliament is set to vote on the matter on Wednesday, and approval seems likely given statements of support for an election from Labour and other opposition parties.
  • May is betting that voters will give her Conservative party a stronger majority in Parliament, allowing her more room to push for a “hard Brexit,” where the U.K. would leave the European single market and retake control of migration from Europe. A stronger majority could also give May more room to cut deals with the EU on matters such as a transitional “implementation phase” following the U.K.’s break from the EU in the spring of 2019.
  • The move is not without risk. A weak showing for the Conservatives could rekindle efforts for a softer break from the EU. Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron, for example, called the election a chance for voters to “avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit” and keep the U.K. in the single market. The election could also boost support for the Scottish National Party at a time when it is seeking a second referendum on independence from the U.K.

Background: The U.K. invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, officially signaling the country’s intent to leave the EU. The EU has indicated it will pursue a hard line in Brexit negotiations, signaling the bloc would force the U.K. to accept EU laws and budget fees if the U.K. seeks the kind of implementation phase May has said she supports. May’s call for an election came just before formal negotiations are set to begin next month.

BAL Analysis: May’s push for a June 8 election carries no immediate immigration consequences. No matter what the election’s outcome, changes to the U.K. and EU’s immigration policies toward each other must be negotiated over the next two years. The election could have significant consequences in terms of the line of negotiating the U.K. will take, but how that will affect post-Brexit U.K.-EU relations is yet to be determined.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@balglobal.com.

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