Brexit Britain heads for a general election

Nile Gardiner,

British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned her nation today by announcing an early general election, to be held on June 8, 2017. This is three years ahead of scheduled elections, which were due in May 2020.

The election offers an opportunity for the ruling Conservative Party to significantly increase its working majority in the House of Commons. It currently stands at just 17, but recent polls suggest the Conservatives could secure a landslide victory in June, with a parliamentary majority as high as 68.

The Conservatives currently have a commanding poll lead over their Labour rivals stretching to more than 20 percentage points. Theresa May’s personal approval rating far exceeds that of left-wing Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has failed to impress at the helm of Britain’s Socialists.

According to Mrs. May, “The only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election”. While the government is already in a strong position, having successfully triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (which begins the formal process of exiting the EU), an emphatic victory at the polls this summer would further strengthen the May government and her own position as prime minister.

It would also give a further powerful mandate for the government as it begins the two-year process of extricating itself from the EU, and negotiating a trade deal with Brussels. And it would consolidate her own position as prime minister, after she succeeded David Cameron in the wake of the Brexit referendum on June 23 last year.

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What does Britain’s general election mean for the United States? Undoubtedly, a strengthened British government and prime minister with a powerful mandate from the British people will be good for the Special Relationship.

In her first 10 months in office, Theresa May has offered exemplary leadership and a firm commitment to ensuring that Brexit is a success. She has already established a promising working relationship with President Donald Trump, and May’s Conservative government gaining a greater majority this summer in the House of Commons would certainly help this partnership.

In contrast a shock win (highly unlikely) for the Labour Party, would place the future of Brexit in question. It would also complicate the relationship with the Republican administration in Washington, with a sharp ideological divide across the Atlantic.

Great Britain is by far America’s most important friend and ally on the world stage. What happens at the polls in Britain will have a direct impact upon the United States and U.S. strategic interests. If the polling is accurate, and the Conservatives sweep to victory again (as they did in 2015), this time with an increased mandate, we will likely see a robust US-UK alliance in the next few years, with an intense focus on an Anglo-American free trade agreement that would advance prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Such a deal could be in place within 90 days of Britain leaving the European Union at the end of May 2019. A Brexit Britain, freed of the shackles of the supranational EU, will be a significantly more powerful actor in the global arena, working even more closely with the United States.

Brexit is a tremendous opportunity for both the US and UK. Britain’s June 8 general election will likely send a clear signal that the Brexit era has truly begun.

Nile Gardiner is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation and a former aide to Margaret Thatcher. Follow him on Twitter @NileGardiner.

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