The United Kingdom’s 2017 General Election: Should it Just Be About Brexit?

On Tuesday 18th April 2017, the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May of the Conservative Party, made a shocking announcement as she called for another general election to be held on Thursday 8th June.

Whilst May’s announcement came as a rather spontaneous one (and around ten minutes earlier than her already short notice declared), and as the House of Commons forwarded May’s suggestion into action on 19th April, the UK will again house a general election. So, as the nation prepares itself for its third landscape-changing vote in the past three years, there is one question that continues to resonate throughout the populace: what does this mean for Brexit?

On the 23rd June 2016, when I wandered into my voting booth in Nottingham as a second-time voter still at university, and was faced with the question: Should the United Kingdom withdraw from its European Union membership?, I and 48.1% of the nation’s voters, ticked: ‘No’. And we lost to a 51.9% majority.

It is a strange sensation, having never been able to vote, and then once of age being part of one of the biggest controversial political periods of the 21st century. Suddenly being thrust into the voting world in this swirling political and economic atmosphere, is quite the experience. Yet it is exciting. ‘Brexit’ has been one of the loudest political campaigns to date and even though the referendum was held almost a year ago it is arguably one of Britain’s biggest political upsets to date. It is the concern in everyone’s minds and the question on everyone’s lips. But the June 2017 General Election, is just that, a general election, not another referendum on Brexit; so is the focus on leaving the EU necessary? Is it relevant?

The 2015 General Election

Cast your minds back to 2015. The Cameron-Clegg coalition has come to an end. University fees were tripled to 9 thousand per year after Liberal Democrats promised to cut them, an ‘eco-friendly economy’ was being actively pursued and Scotland had narrowly voted against independence from the rest of Great Britain with one of the highest registered voting turnouts (84.6%) since the United Kingdom’s 1950 General Election (83.9%).

David Cameron (Conservative Party Leader), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat Party Leader), Ed Miliband (Labour Party Leader), Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party Leader), Natalie Bennett (Green Party Leader) Nigel Farage (United Kingdom Independence Party Leader), and many others were preparing to battle for British political supremacy. Note how only one of those leaders still remains as their party’s political leader less than one year on.

2015’s public were concerned majorly with the economy following the 2008 recession, immigration following the Refugee Crisis and healthcare regarding the future of the NHS. A survey by Ipsos MORI in late-2014 found that these three areas were of equal concern to voters as they began to approach the election, with a different party headlining as the best to deal with separate issues.

It all seems a distant memory. Back when the public still believed in the BBC’s prediction polls and when General Elections were just that: regarding general affairs during an election. The United Kingdom’s last General Election was part of a very different national landscape compared to 2017’s post-Brexit one.

2017 General Election

With Article 50 being triggered on 29th March 2017, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal process from the European Union officially began. The intention being that the nation have completely left by March 2019. So why, less than a month later, despite her adamant declarations that 2020 would be Britain’s next general election, has May performed a u-turn and thrust us into more political controversy? And will it truly cause ‘political chaos’ as she predicted?

On September 3rd 2016, May spoke to BBC’s Andrew Marr and stated:

“I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”

Read this article published by The Spectator to see more than one instance where May made her position on general elections clear.

May may seemed to have made a u-turn on her unwavering position she so decidedly declared on more than occasion, but I doubt her decision is as ‘snap’ as the media are supposing. Her leadership came about post-Brexit, when days after the results of the EU referendum,  her predecessor David Cameron resigned declaring that he was unable to lead the country in the way the public had decided. May was not the 2015 British public’s PM of choice; and in such national turmoil has presented herself as a stern hard-hitting political leader. Yet, fighting for ‘a country that works for everyone’ is a difficult feat when the nation finds itself on a near 50-50 split for every political issue. Perhaps, after 6 months in office, May’s snap general election proposal is exactly what the country needs.

The results of the Scottish Independence Referendum (2014) and the EU Referendum (2016) are enough to suggest the deep split between British people in recent years. With splits of 55/45 and 52/48 respectively; the relationship within Europe and internal relations are clearly strained. Leading and managing a country in such obvious internal turmoil is no easy task, and with Brexit still a sensitive issue, 2017’s General Election may be the push needed to unite the public.

With remain voters sore from their loss not only of the vote, but with their relationship with Europe and Brexit voters calling for the push to leave as they voted, May has only recently triggered Article 50. Yet, despite this delay in decision-making, it may be an intelligent and delicate political move for Britain.

May’s decision to trigger a snap General Election comes as a clever reaction to the nation’s division and pushes each political party to formulate and publish a detailed plan to leave the EU. Voters may then decide on a plan of action for Brexit, and incorporate that into their vote. May’s call for a General Election not only forces parties to develop plans alongside her 12 point plan for leaving the EU – that we are all aware was not of concern during the referendum; where did that 350 million from the EU go, Farage? – but it delivers the opportunity for remainers and leavers alike to vote on a plan for their future. It provides an opportunity for Britain to be united once again. To turn away from division, accept the Brexit outcome, and decide on our future together.

So, should the 2017 General Election just be about Brexit? No. It is a General Election. Voters shouldn’t just vote on the Brexit plans of political parties. The elected leader will have to negotiate with separate political leaders such as Donald Trump, will have to deal with a struggling economy and growing unemployment, address immigration and healthcare issues. But take note, because Brexit negotiations will occur between the EU and whoever you elect this coming June. In accordance with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (2010), there is unlikely to be another snap election before 2022. So, think about Brexit negotiations, think about American relations, think of weapons programmes and education, think of climate change and unemployment. Don’t let only 65.4% of age appropriate voters decide the nation’s future this time. If your vote mattered in any election, it is this one.


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