Poll plunges Britain into uncertainty

British PM Theresa May 
Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP Photo

MPs back early vote which May hopes will strengthen her Brexit mandate

British MPs overwhelmingly backed Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for a snap election, paving the way for a June vote she hopes will give her a mandate to complete Brexit. The House of Commons voted by 522 to 13 to hold a general election on June 8, plunging Britain back into political uncertainty just weeks before the start of negotiations on leaving the European Union.

May stunned the country on Tuesday when she announced her plan for an early vote, despite having repeatedly said she would wait until the next election scheduled for 2020.

In fiery exchanges in the House of Commons yesterday, May said an early election would strengthen her hand against domestic critics seeking to frustrate the Brexit process, which formally began last month.

Riding high in the opinion polls, May is seeking to increase her slim majority of 17 in the 650-seat Commons before the battles begin with the EU over Britain’s exit bill and future trade and immigration ties.

She insists an early election would provide certainty and stability in the negotiations, which will now start after the vote.

In a sign of the key campaign issues ahead, May traded barbs in the Commons with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party is deeply divided and languishing up to 20 points behind the Conservatives.

Corbyn accused the government of broken promises on health, education and the economy during its seven years in office.

May hit back that Labour offered only bankruptcy and chaos, but denied she was complacent, saying: “We will be out there fighting for every vote.”

Brexit will dominate the campaign, with May, who took office after David Cameron resigned following the EU vote, seeking public backing for her plan to pull Britain out of Europe’s single market.

A European Commission spokesman said the real political negotiations on Brexit would start after the election.

Three weekend opinion polls put the Conservatives about 20 points ahead of Labour and, if translated into votes, this could give May an election landslide with a majority of more than 100.

May, Britain’s second woman prime minister, also has strong popular support for her handling of the political earthquake unleashed by Brexit.

By contrast Labour is wracked by divisions, over Brexit and Corbyn’s left-wing leadership, which is opposed by many of his more centrist MPs.

So far, Labour’s stance on Brexit has been to allow the government to go ahead with the EU divorce, but only under certain conditions, such as retaining strong economic ties with the bloc.

That approach risks satisfying neither its traditional working-class supporters, many of whom backed leaving the EU, or its urban, pro-European members, leaving many commentators predicting an electoral bloodbath.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party, which holds most of the seats in Scotland, is pushing its demands for a second referendum on independence to maintain close ties with the EU.

“Make no mistake, if the SNP wins this election in Scotland – and the Tories don’t -– then Theresa May’s attempt to block our mandate to hold another referendum when the time is right, will crumble to dust,” SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

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