What the UK’s Snap General Election Means for Brexit

April 21, 2017

  1. The UK prime minister Theresa May has called a surprise general election for 8 June 2017[1].  Earlier this week she won a House of Commons vote by 522 to 13 to override the standard five year fixed term between general elections.
  2. Theresa May is hoping the early election will convert her current working majority of 17 MPs in the House of Commons into a much bigger majority (with some predictions of a "landslide" victory).  The prime minister says this will strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations and provide the "strong and stable leadership" the country needs.
  3. Brexit negotiations will begin in earnest after the elections in France (the first round takes place on 23 April 2017, with the top two candidates facing each other in a second run-off on 7 May 2017) and Germany (24 September 2017).  A Conservative victory will not mean more leverage over the EU.  But a strong majority may free Theresa May from unwanted interference during the talks, from both within and outside her party. 
  4. Theresa May became Prime Minister after David Cameron resigned following last June’s Brexit referendum and without winning an election.  If Theresa May can extend her party’s narrow majority in Parliament, she will have consolidated her party’s power and secured an electoral endorsement of her Brexit negotiating stance.
  5. The prime minister’s requirement for restrictions on free movement of people may make it difficult for the UK to remain in the EU single market and the customs union.  If Theresa May wins a bigger majority, she will claim a personal mandate for her "hard" Brexit; and pro-EU MPs, particularly in the Conservative party, may be increasingly reluctant to oppose her.
  6. The House of Lords will still have a "soft" Brexit majority but, without backing in the House of Commons, it will be much more difficult politically and constitutionally for the unelected second chamber to hold the government to account.
  7. A strong electoral win will also make it more difficult for MPs to oppose the concessions that Theresa May will inevitably have to make during the complex negotiations with the EU.  In particular, it should mean Theresa May is less reliant on those in her party demanding a clean break from the EU no matter the economic cost (the so-called "cliff edge" dreaded by banks and businesses). Unless otherwise agreed with the EU member states, the UK will be out of the EU by end March 2019.  A larger majority of Conservative MPs may more readily accept a transitional arrangement at that stage, allowing the UK more time to negotiate whilst accepting interim terms from the EU that are likely to be similar to existing arrangements.
  8. Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election means the next UK general election will be delayed from 2020 to 2022. This affords the Conservatives some breathing space.  The Conservatives did not want to be negotiating an exit deal with the EU whilst beginning to campaign for the next general election, with concerns that an impending election might put the prime minister "over a barrel" during the final negotiations. 
  9. Labour, the UK’s official opposition party, has said it will lay out its position on Brexit in its election manifesto.  However the party is perceived to be in disarray under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and it is widely expected to lose a number of seats to the Conservatives in the June election. 
  10. There is a  risk that the election increases support for independence in Scotland.  A majority of voters in Scotland wanted to remain in the EU and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that she will "make Scotland’s voice heard".  Another strong Scottish National party performance in the general election will no doubt boost its demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence. That said, the Conservatives currently hold just one seat in Scotland.  If the Conservatives manage to gain more support in Scotland on a unionist platform, they will argue Nicola Sturgeon should rethink her independence plans.
  11. Theresa May’s leadership has until now been dominated by Brexit.  The election campaign will allow Theresa May to set out in full her vision for domestic policy.  David Cameron’s previous spending commitments on health, education and state pensions may be revised.  The election may also give the prime minister a mandate to roll-back some of the constitutional initiatives introduced in the Tony Blair administration, including the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law and the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in 2000.

   [1]   UK Parliament – MPs approve an early general election

This client alert was prepared by London partners Stephen Gillespie, Charlie Geffen and Nicholas Aleksander and of counsel Anne MacPherson.  

We have a working group in London (led by Stephen Gillespie, Nicholas Aleksander, Patrick Doris, Charlie Geffen, Ali Nikpay and Selina Sagayam) that has been considering these issues for many months.  Please feel free to contact any member of the working group or any of the other lawyers mentioned below.

Ali Nikpay – Antitrust
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4273

Charlie Geffen – Corporate
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4225

Stephen Gillespie – Finance
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4230

Philip Rocher – Litigation
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4202

Jeffrey M. Trinklein – Tax
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4224

Nicholas Aleksander – Tax
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4232

Alan Samson – Real Estate
[email protected]
Tel:  020 7071 4222

Patrick Doris – Litigation; Data Protection
[email protected]
Tel:  020 7071 4276

Penny Madden QC – Arbitration
[email protected]
Tel:  020 7071 4226

James A. Cox – Employment; Data Protection
[email protected]
Tel: 020 7071 4250  

Gregory A. Campbell – Restructuring
[email protected]
Tel:  020 7071 4236

Selina Sagayam – Corporate [email protected]
Tel:  020 7071 4263

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