U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May blindsided political opposition and international spectators Tuesday with a surprise move to call a snap general election for June 8 in a bid to form a unified government ahead of advancing Brexit negotiations.
With May's Conservative party currently dominating opinion polls with a 21 point lead, the move has been widely perceived as an opportunity to garner a greater number of parliamentary seats, giving May a mandate to drive ahead with her intended 'hard Brexit'. However, recent history indicates that opinion polls should be watched with extreme caution and May's decision may have in fact thrown Britain's political path into greater uncertainty.
Judgement day for May
May's 'reluctant' decision to call an early election was a rare departure from her otherwise decisive 'Brexit means Brexit' approach and will be seen as her moment of reckoning.
The prime minister, who had previously said that there would be no snap election ahead of that scheduled for 2020, was elected last year not by the public but by her party after David Cameron's resignation.
A win in June is therefore significant not only for securing greater Conservative power but also validation from the British public, which would allow her to drive ahead with her Brexit vision with renewed confidence. Currently the Conservatives hold a slim majority with 330 of 550 seats. A loss, however, would mark a scathing review of her short time in office and her decision to renege on her previously pro-EU principles.
"The main political risk is that May is taking a massive bet on her own popularity," a research note from Teneo Intelligence said Wednesday.
The most recent YouGov poll suggests that May's Conservatives would emerge from the election in the lead with 42 percent of votes. Labour, the next biggest party but one which is mired with internal divisions, is seen emerging with 23 percent while the Liberal Democrats would likely garner 12 percent and UKIP 10 percent. Other parties are expected to amass 10 percent.
'Hard Brexit' faces turmoil
U.K. parties now have 50 days in which to formulate their campaigns and convince voters that they can offer the best future for Britain.
While May has already triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which formally commences the U.K.'s exit from the EU, pro-European parties may seek to appeal to those who voted to remain – and indeed those who have since changed their stance on the union – by pledging to overhaul Brexit proceedings.
The Conservatives and Labour have both said that they would follow the will of the British public, who voted to leave by a 51.9 percent majority, however, it is anticipated that Labour would aim for a less heavy-handed interpretation of May's hard Brexit.
Meanwhile, the smaller Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, who have opposed May's hard-line stance, could have an opportunity to significantly advance their positions if they focus their campaigning on a pro-EU agenda.
Shifting political landscape
The British public have reason to be disillusioned by the U.K. political system, which has undergone more upheaval in recent months than some previous decades.
Although May leads current polls, this election is far from a shoo-in with indications suggesting that Britons could divert from their traditional party and shift their support – or even place defiance votes. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, which lost popularity after forming a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, gained 5,000 new members in the hours after May's announcement.
This shifting landscape leaves the path open for an entirely new government. While internal divisions within the Labour party suggest that leader Jeremy Corbyn would be unlikely to secure a win, a coalition agreement could throw the Conservatives off course from another five year term.
The co-leaders of the Green party announced Wednesday that they had approached Corbyn and the Lib Dems' Tim Farron about the possibility of forming a "progressive alliance" between the three centre-left parties.