British Prime Minister Calls For Snap Parliamentary Elections

Apr 18, 2017
Originally published on April 18, 2017 9:39 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

British Prime Minister Theresa May made a surprise announcement this morning. She called a snap parliamentary election for June 8, saying she needs a strong mandate ahead of Brexit negotiations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.

GREENE: Let's talk about this with British journalist Michael White, who writes for The New European magazine. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL WHITE: Hello.

GREENE: So why this announcement from the prime minister now?

WHITE: Well, I think Mrs. May has seen an opportunity to consolidate her parliamentary majority. And the opportunity may close quite quickly when she gets stuck into the serious negotiations with European leaders, France and Germany in particular, over the terms of the British Brexit, of leaving the European Union. So this is a window of opportunity to weaken the opposition Labour Party, which is pretty weak anyway, and shore up her own position. As your news bulletin reminded your listeners, she wasn't elected prime minister by the country at large. When David Cameron lost the Brexit referendum last year, June the 23, she emerged as the leader of the Conservative Party. So she's also looking for her own mandate. But this is really about tactics and grabbing a moment. And she's certainly surprised everybody over here. They kept this pretty tight.

GREENE: Well, let's just work this through. I mean, if there had been a risk, if she had gone into these negotiations - and you're suggesting that she might have lost a window to consolidate her party's power. Does that mean that British voters are having some second thoughts about Brexit?

WHITE: No, I don't think they are yet. I think it's too soon. David Cameron overplayed his hand last year. He said if you vote for Brexit terrible things will immediately happen to the economy, we'll go into a recession, people will lose their jobs. Well, that hasn't happened. And I think more sophisticated economists say it was a silly thing because - to predict because it's a slow burn, Brexit. Obviously, the Nissan car company isn't going to move its operations to mainland Europe overnight. It's going to see how things work out.

And Mrs. May has made promises to Nissan to make sure that their tariff access to the European Union isn't disadvantaged, lots of promises. So early days. And people haven't felt the pain of Brexit except in one noticeable thing. As the summer season advances, people are going on vacation to France and Italy and Spain and Greece in the usual sort of way and coming back and saying, ouch, the pound sterling is off 12 or 15 percent...

GREENE: The currency is not a...

WHITE: ...And everything is costing more. And food, of course, is costing more and imports. So it's a slow, evolving process. But the answer is no, even the people who voted against Brexit now think, well, we voted for it. We'd better make the best of it and make it work as best we can. So no change of heart yet.

GREENE: You and I both cover politics, and I'm sure you're as aware as I am that these have been very unpredictable times. And politicians have suggested there's a sure thing at their peril. Is there a chance that this could somehow backfire on Theresa May?

WHITE: I think it'll backfire because she'll get a much bigger conservative majority and she'll kill her parliamentary party with what your listeners will know as Tea Party conservatives. We're all pretty sure...

GREENE: People to her right.

WHITE: ...She'll hammer the - hammer the opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. He's Bernie Sanders without Senator Sanders' considerable pluses or personal charisma. He's pretty hopeless. But things do go wrong. Events sometimes trip you up. Who knows...

GREENE: They sure do.

WHITE: ...We may be at war with North Korea by June the 8.

GREENE: That is a very good point. OK, Michael White of The New European magazine talking to us about the surprise announcement of snap elections in Britain coming up in early June. Michael, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.