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Why the UK election matters to the US

  • A win for Theresa May in the U.K. election will likely continue the U.K.'s "special relationship" with the U.S.
  • A win for left-wing Jeremy Corbyn could see the U.K. come to a head with the Trump administration
  • The race between the U.K.'s two major parties remains closer than ever on election day.

Britons head to the polls on Thursday to cast their vote in the country's second eGeneral Election in as many years.

This election, widely dubbed the Brexit election, is an important one for European spectators as it will largely determine the country's direction of travel in upcoming negotiations with the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May first called the election in a bid to increase her parliamentary majority and thereby strengthen her ability to implement a hard Brexit.

However, the vote is also a momentous one for international spectators – not least in the U.S., where observers will be wondering what the future holds for U.S.-U.K. relations.

Conservative win: Continuing the 'special relationship'

A victory for the incumbent would no doubt be received with a sigh of relief on the other side of the Atlantic, as observers take comfort in the continuation of the status quo.

Though May has voiced concerns over some of President Donald Trump's hard-line views – most recently describing his criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan as "wrong" – she has indicated her commitment to maintaining the U.K.'s "special relationship" with the U.S. Her readiness to set aside political differences was most pertinently captured when she was photographed holding hands with the president in her first state visit.

Labour win: A clash of leaders

Her closest opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been more vocal in his criticism of the U.S. president, however.

The pair are ideologically opposed on most major political issues, including defense, climate change and business. Corbyn once described NATO as "a danger to world peace", and though he has since confirmed his commitment to working with NATO, his stance on defense is likely to be at odds with President Trump's staunch advocacy for increased military spending.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Labour Party general election campaign launch at Event City on May 9, 2017 in Manchester, England.
Anthony Devlin | Getty Images
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Labour Party general election campaign launch at Event City on May 9, 2017 in Manchester, England.

Corbyn recently said the president's behavior risked making the world a more dangerous place.

"The new U.S. president seems determined to add to the dangers by recklessly escalating the confrontation with North Korea, unilaterally launching missile strikes on Syria, opposing President Obama's nuclear arms deal with Iran, and backing a new nuclear arms race," Corbyn said during a speech on foreign policy in May.

He added that under his governance the U.K. would no longer engage in "hand-holding with Donald Trump" and would distance Britain's foreign policy away from the U.S. and back to Britain.

"We will not be afraid to speak our mind," he said.

"Pandering to an erratic Trump administration will not deliver stability. Britain deserves better than simply outsourcing our country's security and prosperity to the whims of the Trump White House."

Corbyn, who favors hiking tax rates for businesses and high earners, also hit out at the former business man in the wake of last week's London terror attacks. Coming to the defense of London's Labour Mayor, Corbyn dismissed President Trump's critique as graceless.

"It is the strength of our communities that gets us through these awful times as London Mayor Sadiq Khan recognized, but which the current occupant in the White House has neither the grace nor the sense to grasp," he said.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

The president described Khan as "pathetic" after the Mayor said London residents had "no reason to be alarmed".

A close race

When May called the election in April, her Conservative party showed a clear lead in opinion polls. Many indicators suggested that the party could increase their 17-seat parliamentary majority by more than 100 seats while Corbyn's Labour party looked on course to suffer a miserable defeat.

In the six weeks of campaigning, however, the odds have shifted and the likelihood of Corbyn win has become increasingly feasible.

May's party entered election day with a 12-point lead of 46 percent on Labour's 34 percent – a far cry from the 21-point lead once enjoyed by the Conservatives. Opinion polls - published before Thursday's vote - suggest that May's 17-seat majority could drop to between just one and 13 seats.

With the odds narrowing, there is also a possibility that neither party will win the majority of seats needed – 326 out of 650 – to form a government. In this case, both parties will need to call on allies within smaller parties in order to form a majority, adding greater uncertainty to the future face of the U.K. government.

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