Over the last few years, Great Britain has become the global capital of votes. There was a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 (Scotland narrowly voted to stay in the U.K.), a general election in May 2015 (David Cameron’s Conservative Party won), and a referendum on leaving the EU in June 2016 (the old and the Welsh voted for a Brexit). And on Tuesday, Prime Minister May‚ who has been on the job for less than a year, announced a snap election, which will be held in early June.
It’s a bold move from May and an unexpected one. But despite having formally begun the Brexit process last month, May has had difficulty cementing her position. That’s partly because she has not led her party in an election—she took over the job from Cameron, the unwitting architect of Brexit, when he stepped down in disgrace—and partly because Brexit itself has been so divisive.
May made the case that an election was needed to shut up her opponents: “In recent weeks, Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”
Given the way that recent votes have gone, calling an election is a very risky move for May. She may be trying to avoid the mistake that Gordon Brown made when he took over from Tony Blair in 2007. By the time he declared an election, the world was in the midst of the greatest financial crisis in several decades. May’s Conservative Party, meanwhile, has a sizable polling lead over the Labour Party, which has been in disarray for some time now.
It’s hard not to read the snap election a sign of disrespect for Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn. Given the controversy over Brexit, you’d expect the opposition to have momentum, but that does not seem to be the case. Still, this snap election should be another referendum on Brexit, which appears to have caused a lot of buyers’ remorse. May is betting that she can win definitively—and in doing so, weaken her opponents, legitimize her position, and erase the memory of the slim majority that voted to leave the European Union.