Prime Minister Theresa May’s representatives were forced to deny rumors a snap general election was being planned to coincide with the start of the official process of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
According to unnamed sources in the Times, the Conservative Party chairman and its chief whip met during the weekend to debate a run to the ballot box as early as May 4 – the day of several local elections across the country. Article 50, signalling the start of the Brexit process will officially be triggered on March 29.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was also preparing for “war,” as the Tories lead in opinion polls by an 18-point margin.
Talking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics, the party’s election coordinator, Andrew Gwynne, said Labour would support a Commons motion calling for a snap poll.
“It would be very difficult not to [support a snap election] because if the government wants to dissolve Parliament, wants a general election, we don’t want the Tories to be in government, we want to be in government,” he said.
“We want to have an opportunity to put that case to the British people.”
Preparations have been underway since last year, with Labour psyching itself up “into a position whereby we can not only challenge the government but we can also offer a valuable alternative for the British people to choose from should that election arise.”
To critics suggesting the party was in no shape to fight an election, Gwynne added: “We’ve expanded massively operations at Labour HQ. We are taking on additional staff. One of the jobs that we’re currently doing is to make sure that Labour colleagues have the support and the resources.”
The Tories have so far denied all speculation, insisting May will stay in power until her party’s term is over in 2020.
“The prime minister has made her position on this very clear. The position has not changed,” a government source told the Daily Mail.
Snap election in May – what do you think?
— Joana Ramiro (@JoanaRamiroUK) March 20, 2017
May is believed to be under pressure to call a general election in order to confirm her mandate as prime minister and chief Brexit coordinator. While British PMs are not directly elected but picked out of an election’s winning political party, May has often been criticized for directly taking over from David Cameron without scrutiny from the general public.
Many, however, were also suspicious of alleged pressure from Conservative MPs on May to clear the decks and exploit Labour’s perceived weak leadership before Brexit negotiations begin.
“Is a snap election May’s revenge for Sturgeon’s indy ref 2 upstaging of Brexit? Politics is not a game my arse,” wrote a Twitter user named Pete Clarke, referring to the recent announcement by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she would seek a new independence referendum.
Snap election undoubtedly useful for May but it’s batshit insane to trigger Article 50 and then hold an election campaign.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) March 20, 2017
Another source cited by the Daily Mail said: “You’ve got a prime minister who has just told Nicola Sturgeon that now is not the time to be causing instability and uncertainty by staging another referendum – it would be pretty hard to square that with suddenly announcing a snap election that would be bound to be seen as opportunistic.”
But others think the timing could be a stroke of genius, as under electoral law May has only until March 27 to move a writ for an election on May 4. That would place the announcement mere days ahead of the PM’s formal trigger of Brexit procedures.
— Pete❄️Clarke (@creativeblock_) March 20, 2017
“We have a new prime minister and cabinet facing the most complex challenges of modern times: Brexit negotiations, the Trump administration, the threat from Scottish nationalists, and many other issues,” former Tory leader William Hague said earlier this month.
“There is no doubt that they would be in a stronger position to take the country through these challenges successfully if they had a large and decisive majority in the Commons and a new full term ahead of them.”
Bookmakers believe the probability of an early election is high, slashing the odds to 5/1 on a run to the polls in May.
“It’s just 2/1 [if] one is called before the end of the year,” a Ladbrokes spokesperson added.