Rethinking Europe

May Snap Election: A Move Toward British Disunification

The big winner of the upcoming UK snap election will be three nationalisms – English, Scottish and Irish republican.

Credit: Number 10 -


  • The big winner of the UK snap election will be three nationalisms - English, Scottish and Irish republican.
  • In the Queen’s tenth decade, her presumably “United” Kingdom will be more divided than ever.
  • It is easy to call an election that cannot be lost. What you do with the victory is another story.

Historians of British elections already know what the one on June 8, 2017 will be called. It is a “coupon” election. That was what the election held back in 1918 was called.

The war-winning government coalition under Prime Minister David Lloyd George issued endorsement letters, or “coupons,” to all candidates who backed its continuation in office.

Mrs. May will similarly argue that only true-believing pro-Brexit Tory candidates are worthy of her endorsement.

Having won the Brexit plebiscite on the basis of nationalist-restoration, populist propaganda worthy of Erdogan, the dominant right in England want to have their world view endorsed by a parliamentary election.

(The government and parliamentary majority elected in 2015 was heavily anti-Brexit.)

What triggered the prime minister’s sudden move? Some are pointing to the extensive police investigation into at least 20 Conservative MPs who are accused of illegal financing of their 2015 local campaigns.

By calling a general election, May has swiftly kicked this problem away.

But let us take Mrs. May at her word – that she wants a fresh Parliament behind her as she begins the serious Brexit negotiations.

A party purge?

What she does not say is that the very act of calling this election – the UK’s fourth major poll in four years since the Scottish referendum of 2014 – will dramatically alter the balance of the Brexit negotiations.

Tory Party candidates will be chosen in terms of their growing hostility to Europe. That effort is fanned daily by newspapers that are owned by old and very rich men, including foreign ones — all of whom are united in not paying taxes in Britain.

As a result, the selected Tory candidates are likely to be much more aggressively Europhobe. Mrs. May will have to act accordingly – by giving them what they want, which is a full-on rupture Brexit.

This includes leaving the Single Market, leaving the Customs Union and re-introducing border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the nightmare scenario for Dublin.

It also means rejecting the authority of the European Court of Justice and bringing in Cold War era immigration controls.

A harder and harder Brexit

The EU27 have already made it abundantly clear they are not going to allow any exceptions for a UK determined on a hard Brexit.

The hopes of the City to find a fudge that allows City business like trading in Euros, insurance and investment funds across 27 EU member states without much change from today will evaporate fast.

Today’s Conservative MPs who have been elected over the last 20 years to the Commons contain a large number of middle of the road pro-Europeans who are very worried about Brexit.

For the most part, they keep their mouths shut, out of loyalty to their new Prime Minister. However, many of them will be replaced by hard-line anti-European MPs.

The end of the Sphinx phase

Mrs. May has been Sphinx-like in avoiding questions on how she sees Brexit. This cannot be maintained over the course of the general election.

She is very close to the core of party activists and will not want to dismay them by moderating or modulating her line on Brexit.

May is also likely to harden her line on Brexit, in order to win nationalist votes within England but outside of London, to offset the party’s weak areas.

Commentators loyal to May and the City are now announcing that the election makes May stronger in the Brexit talks.

Manipulating electoral fortunes

But how? The rest of Europe is aghast at the sheer cynicism of it. What is on display in London is more reminiscent of Tsipras in his bad days or Erdogan any day. Gone is any notion of a cautious, pragmatic Theresa May.

But the Liberal Democrats who have been principled in their opposition to Brexit may pick up votes. In Scotland, the big winner will be the Nationalist separatists and in northern Ireland the nationalist Sinn Fein candidates will do well. (Labour is flat on its face at the moment.)

If the past is any guide, an election called purely and simply for party advantage with no national crisis or loss of authority in the Commons does not go down well.

Whither the UK?

The election will be dominated by Brexit, but we will have to wait and see what will be in the broader Theresa May platform and manifesto to see what the vision is that she has Britain’s future.

Unfortunately, the big winner of the upcoming snap election will be three nationalisms – English, Scottish and Irish republicanism in Northern Ireland. In the Queen’s tenth decade, her presumably “United” Kingdom will be more divided than ever.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt Mrs. May will re-enter Downing Street on June 9. However, none of Britain’s problems will have been solved.

United Europe, divided UK

Contrary to May’s assumption, the Brexit negotiations that lie ahead will be even tougher — with a united EU that is increasingly ready to let Britain isolate itself politically and economically.

After a miserable decade following the crash of 2007-09, the European Union has re-found its economic energy and confidence, with 500,000 jobs created this year in Spain alone.

The 1918 election was an easy win for the leader of Britain at the end of World War One. Four years later, his majority lay in ruins.

The lesson to be learned? It is easy to call an election that cannot be lost. What you do with the victory after is another question.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” published by IB Tauris-Bloomsbury, London, October 2019. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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