Another UK election? It’s likely to be accidental

By BLOOMBERG

LIVERPOOL • Could Britain be about to hold another general election (GE)?

Speculation has blown up again after The Sunday Times reported that Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May’s (picture) aides have discussed the possibility of a November vote, in which she would seek a public endorsement of a harder Brexit stance.

May’s office has described the report as “categorically untrue”, and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC it was “for the birds”.

Aside from the denial, there are several other problems, including a basic one: May doesn’t have the power to call an election on her own. Parliament has to agree.

There are two ways in law that this can happen. The one she used in 2016 was to ask lawmakers to vote for an early election — a vote that requires two-thirds of them to back it. The Opposition Labour Party certainly would, but her own Tories might not, especially if they thought she was trying to manoeuvre around them.

The other route is for the PM to lose a confidence vote. May doesn’t have a majority and is trying to do something that bitterly divides her party, so this is the way identified by many of those who think there could be an election.

But at last year’s election, May had prepared a third route: A short bill that set the date of the election that would only require a simple majority.

The text of that bill, less than 100 words, is published in “The British General Election of 2017” by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, out this month.

May’s aides have floated the idea of an election, largely as a threat to rebellious Conservative lawmakers: If her plans are defeated, the government would fall, and an election would follow.

That points to the next problem with the idea of May going to the country: No one is sure that she’d win.

The 2017 campaign revealed her flaws and the strengths of Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.The people around Corbyn are very keen for an election, which they are sure would propel them into government.

Indeed, talking about an election could backfire. Few Tories want May to lead them into a vote again, and if they think she’s serious, they might move quickly to replace her.

Which leaves the likeliest route: A confidence vote after May adopts a strategy that one wing of her party decides is so unacceptable they need to bring the government down to stop her.

“There could be another election,” said Cowley, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

“But if there is, it’s more likely to be because May’s plans have gone wrong than because she’s set out to have one.”

Meanwhile, Corbyn said he wants a GE rather than a second Brexit referendum, but will be “bound” by the decision of his party conference when it votes tomorrow on the issue.

Party officials were working on a compromise in a private meeting yesterday morning after more than 100 local parties submitted motions on Brexit to Labour’s annual gathering in Liverpool, northwest England.

Many called for a referendum on the divorce deal reached with Brussels while others demanded another vote on the basic question of staying in or leaving the bloc.

“Our preference would be for a GE,” Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I’m there elected as leader of this party in order to bring greater democracy to this party. Obviously, I’m bound by the democracy of our party.”

The party is split over Brexit and Corbyn is trying to balance the debate to prevent alienating voters he would need to win an election.

While a majority of Labour lawmakers oppose Brexit, much of the party’s heartlands voted for it. Corbyn himself opposed European Union (EU) membership when Britain joined in the 1970s.

A poll of 1,054 Labour Party members carried out by You- Gov for the People’s Vote campaign and published yesterday found that 86% want a referendum on the final divorce deal with the EU.