Thursday 14 November 2019

Enda Kenny and Theresa May hold 15-minute conversation on plans to hold 'Brexit Election'

British PM Theresa May with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
British PM Theresa May with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister Theresa May have held a 15 minute telephone conversation about her plans to hold a ‘Brexit election’ on June 8.

The leaders agreed that their public commitments regarding Irish issues ahead of the Brexit negotiations remain “unchanged” despite the political upheaval in the UK.

A spokesperson for Mr Kenny said both government are still prioritising the protection of an open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and the retention of the Common Travel Area.

They also discussed the need to recognise the “close trading links between our intertwined economies”.

Mr Kenny also emphasised to the Prime Minister that a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland should not be contemplated.

The spokesperson said the view of both leaders is that an executive should be formed in Stormont in the coming weeks.

This is despite growing speculation in the North that a second Assembly election could be held to coincide with the Westminster poll.

The Taoiseach also spoke to Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan who has been informed by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire that legislation will pass through the House of Commons next week in order to extend the deadline for the talks currently taking place.

“The onus remains on those elected to Stormont to come to an agreement and get the devolved administrations working again as quickly as possible,” a spokesman said.

So Theresa May has changed her mind and called a general election: What next?

Here are the steps needed before the vote happens.

How will she call an election?

The mechanism for a government in Britain to call a new election is more complicated than it used to be. Governments used to be able to call elections when they saw fit, but the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011, set a timetable for elections to take place every five years.

Under the legislation, a motion for a new vote ahead of schedule needs to be carried by two thirds of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, including vacant seats. This means that the government needs 434 votes to call the election.

May said that she would introduce a motion to Parliament on Wednesday. If it is passed, Parliament will come to an end 25 working days before the date of the general election which, accounting for public holidays, will be May 3.

May's Conservatives hold 330 seats in the chamber, and the opposition Labour party 229. Labour has said that it will vote for the election, so the combined 559 votes would be enough to pass the motion if all lawmakers of both parties follow the party line.

Why did May change her mind?

The decision by Theresa May to call a snap election is a U-turn, as she had previously repeatedly ruled out such a move.

She has previously said that Britain needs stability rather than a new election, but on Tuesday she implied that division in Westminster was undermining that stability already.

"At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division," May said on Tuesday as she announced a general election.

She also cited economic strength as a sign of her government's success.

"Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations," she said.

Economists had said that the UK economy's relative strength at the moment makes this a good time to have an election, before nascent signs of a downturn can gather steam.

May's position may also have been influenced by the polls.

A survey by ICM on Tuesday gave the Conservatives a 18 percentage point lead over the main Labour opposition party, and other polls over the last week have put the lead at over 20 percentage points.

Labour has been riven with internal division over the Brexit vote and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who many of its lawmakers believe will struggle to win an election.

Betting odds indicated May's Conservatives had an 80 percent chance of winning a majority while Labour had just a 2 percent chance.

What does it mean for Brexit?

If May wins the June 8 election, her position would be strengthened at home and in negotiations with the 27 other members of the EU.

With a large majority, May would be less beholden to extreme eurosceptics inside the Conservative Party while winning a personal mandate would strengthen her position as prime minister.

It also gives her more space domestically to negotiate Britain's exit, which under the current timetable will take place in March 2019. Had she waited until 2020 to hold an election, she would have faced voters just a year after leaving the EU.

By calling one in June, May could win more space domestically as the next British election would not be due until 2022. That would allow her some political space to deal with any of the potentially negative economic implications of Brexit.

But her gamble also means that the biggest three economies of the European Union - Germany, the United Kingdom and France - all face elections in 2017.

Online Editors

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