Quick guide to Britain's snap election

Today the UK votes. It’s an election that has never been more closely watched by the world. Well, apart from last year, when the British electorate voted by a narrow majority of 52% against European Union membership. And this year’s snap election has a lot to do with that.

Only a couple of months ago we asked Fabian Amtenbrink, Professor of European Union Law at Erasmus School of Law, about the consequences of Brexit. He then explained: ‘Now the 24 months starts in which the UK has to negotiate an exit deal. Once set in motion, that cannot be stopped, except by unanimous consent of all member states. Within these two years, all negotiations should be concluded, all details captured. (…) Failure to work out any agreement, means the UK can leave the EU without one. And after those two years, the United Kingdom will be treated no different to any other country outside the EU.’

We then asked Amtenbrink what the different scenarios could be. One of them being the option that negotiations are started, but no deal can be made. ‘The UK can then still pull out of the exit process if everyone agrees.’

After Brexit
So what happened in the meantime? A lot. Even though Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly said the government would serve its five-year term, and not call a snap election, she did exactly that. Why? Because she needs a larger majority to guarantee political stability in the EU Brexit negotiations. BBC journalists point out that her opponents believe ‘she was tempted by poor polling numbers for the main opposition party, Labour – and saw a political opportunity.’

Up until about a week ago, many people did indeed think May and the Conservatives would win a landslide victory. The polls were all in favour of the Conservatives, which would give May the mandate she needs for the Brexit negotiations. But then, to everybody’s surprise, Labour caught up and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn started to narrow the gap. There now is a chance of a hung Parliament, where no party wins a majority of seats and a coalition is needed. That would not only mean an end to May’s majority in parliament, but also a change of the game as serious discussions are needed on the conditions for leaving the EU.

After These Elections

Amtenbrink: ‘The possibility of an unstable government in Britain will further fuel the doubts that many voice about the UK’s ability to negotiate a proper deal with the EU. Not only with regard to the arrangements of its withdrawal from the Union, but also concerning its future trade relationship. May’s desire to negotiate a “comprehensive free trade agreement” may then become wishful thinking rather than a realistic scenario for the foreseeable future. For the EU this means that the negotiations may become even more cumbersome.’

The election will not change Britain’s mind about getting out of the European Union. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are committed to following the outcome of the referendum. But each party has different views on that. If last year’s Brexit referendum was about whether the UK should leave the EU, this election is seen as a referendum on how to get out of the EU. Whoever wins shouldn’t celebrate too long, as negotiations with the EU are scheduled just eleven days after the election.

Fun Fact
Elections in the United Kingdom are by tradition on a Thursday. It has been suggested that this arose as the best of several circumstances, since Friday pay-packets would lead to more drunken voters on Fridays and weekends. Having the election as many days as possible after a Sunday would reduce the influence of Sunday sermons, and many towns had markets on Thursdays, thus the local population would be in town that day anyway.

When? Thursday June 8 2017. Polls in the United Kingdom open at 7:00 and close at 22:00 (8:00 - 23:00 EMT)


Publication date: 8 June 2017