Editorial

Mrs May's gamble has made UK situation worse

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election shattered her credibility because less than a year ago she made a solemn public commitment not to do so.

The veracity of her pronouncement was already questioned because on becoming prime minister she immediately stated that her position was for a hard Brexit, even though she opposed Brexit but skilfully took a back seat in the campaign. Her hubris, born of a need to project toughness, a la former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, contrasted with the sincerity of her main opponent, Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.

The social policy of the Conservative Party's manifesto provoked such outrage that it had to be repudiated. This contrasted with the Labour Party, which focused on health, education, housing and pensions, rather than on Brexit.

Like our own ex-Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Mrs May refused to participate in a nationally televised debate. The result was that she led her party to a loss of their majority with eight Cabinet ministers failing to be re-elected. It was not the increase in seats she sought to strengthen her hard Brexit stance in the negotiations with the European Union.

While the Conservatives still have more seats than all the other political parties, they do not have enough to form a Government without a coalition with a minority party. Therefore Mrs May is looking to Northern Ireland's small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This is a prescription for instability, raising the possibility of another general election in the not too distant future, as the DUP has already signalled that it will make demands, some of which do not sit comfortably with London.

Mrs May's opportunistic political gamble has made the situation in the UK worse.

First, she does not have a mandate for a hard Brexit; the election result indicates that the British are not antagonistic to their European neighbours; and what has become very clear now is that the referendum vote to leave the EU was an attempt to regain more policy space to address the social issues which have arisen from prolonged austerity. Brexit is not an end in itself, but an illusion that it is the means for policy change.

Second, the loss of Conservative seats and the wipe-out of the United Kingdom Independent Party make it is necessary to drastically revise the brief for the Brexit negotiations which are scheduled to begin on June 19. The Europeans have already sensed that the mandate is ambiguous and that the decisions about the negotiations will have to take account of the views of the Irish coalition partner and the Labour Party. This is in a political context where polls now indicate that the majority is in favour of staying in the EU.

Third, it has heightened the economic uncertainty instigated by Brexit in an already sluggish global economy. The fallout is evident in the devaluation of the Pound Sterling against the US Dollar and the Euro, while already anxious investors could be further unsettled, thus hampering the fledgling economic growth.

The British will need all of their famous resolve and calm to weather this self-inflicted storm. Hopefully, an early general election will produce a majority Government with a clear mandate.

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