Is May Launching a Stealth Campaign for a Brexit Election?
Theresa May is good at surprises. On April 18 last year, she stunned the U.K. with a shock announcement that she was calling a general election, after months of ruling one out.
Now she’s embarking on another national campaign -- touring the U.K. to win public backing for the Brexit deal she’s just negotiated with the European Union. On Dec. 11, Parliament will vote on her deal and the prime minister told the House of Commons that she’s "looking forward" to the date.
But why is she trying to persuade millions of voters of the merits of her deal, when the only people voting on it will be members of Parliament?
Could she be preparing the ground -- in stealth -- for another potential snap election? It’s certainly not impossible. If the House of Commons votes down May’s deal, as her own ministers think looks likely, she will need to find another way to win support for it. Otherwise, the U.K. will crash out of the EU next March with no agreement to cushion the blow.
The EU has been clear that it won’t come up with a better offer for Britain. If the deal isn’t good enough to get through Parliament, and there can’t be a new deal, May might need a new Parliament instead. And that means an election.
It’s a possibility that May’s aides have been toying with for months as she’s struggled to get her blueprint for Brexit through a divided House of Commons and splits within her own government. So far, there hasn’t been a parliamentary defeat bad enough to make an election necessary.
A fresh election might be more viable than a second referendum, which would probably take a lot longer to organize, and which May has insisted she’ll never agree to.
But there are reasons to be cautious. In 2017, May’s gamble on an early election backfired. Instead of the landslide victory she’d been led to expect, she lost her majority entirely. Her track record as a bad campaigner could also spell trouble for her effort to win support for the deal, even if there’s no public vote in the end.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.