The non-Brit’s guide to Britain’s snap election
Oh snap! The UK is holding a “snap” election on Thursday.
Wait, you say, didn’t the Brits just have an election two years ago? Yes, but the UK and Europe have changed a lot since 2015 (um, Brexit), so voters are headed back to the polls to help Britain forge a new path forward.
Here’s everything you need to know about this election.
What the heck is a ‘snap’ election?
General elections in the United Kingdom are supposed to be held every five years. (The next one was scheduled for 2020.) But an early, or snap, election can be held if at least two-thirds of lawmakers agree to it or if there’s a vote of no confidence in the government.
Yes, that’s a lot different than the rigid election schedule in the US, where it only seems like there’s always another election around the corner.
Voters will choose lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of Britain’s Parliament. The political party that wins the most seats controls the legislative agenda and will have a big say in how the UK gets out of the European Union.
Why should you care?
Once again, Brexit. It will change everything about how the country deals with Europe, and by extension, the world.
Keep in mind there’s almost no chance this election will change Britain’s mind about getting out of the European Union. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party — the two biggest parties in Parliament — are committed to following the will of the people and seeing Brexit through to the end. But each party has a slightly different vision for how the divorce from the EU should happen.
Decisions made on how the UK and the EU deal with each other in the future on issues like trade, immigration, security and finances will ripple throughout Europe and beyond.
Who are the major players?
Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn loom large over this vote. May took over as Prime Minster after David Cameron stepped down last year in the shocking aftermath of the Brexit referendum result. She repeatedly said she wasn’t going to ask for a snap election, then shocked everybody back in April by doing just that.
May and her fellow Conservatives have a smallish majority right now in Parliament, and she’d like to get a bigger one. It would put her in a stronger position to deal with the EU on Brexit.
Corbyn and his Labour Party have been sniping with May and the Conservatives over exactly how Britain should leave the EU. They see the election as a chance for them to increase their numbers in Parliament.
What are the major issues?
If last year’s Brexit referendum was about whether the UK should leave the EU, this snap election is seen as a referendum on how the UK should get out of the EU.
And the choice is pretty stark. May and the Conservatives have a vision of a “hard” Brexit, meaning the UK makes a clean break from the European Union.
Under a “hard” Brexit, Brits would leave the EU’s single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods, services and people within the bloc. The “people” part of that is a biggie, because it would mean the UK would no longer have to allow unlimited migration from EU countries. And if you remember, getting a stronger handle on immigration was one of the driving forces behind the referendum result last year.
But Corbyn and the Labour Party want to maintain some ties with the EU. If they won they’d likely pursue a so-called “soft” Brexit, meaning the UK would somehow stay connected to the single market, so the free flow of trade and people between Europe and the UK could continue.
The economy and healthcare have also dominated the election campaign.
But what about the threat of terrorism?
A recent survey revealed terrorism is the second-biggest issue that Britons worry about, after health care. And that was before Saturday’s deadly attack in London, which came less than two weeks after the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
It’s hard to predict how terrorism fears will affect how people vote. But some observers believe they make May more vulnerable because she oversaw cuts to police forces in her previous role as Home Secretary.
Is it true this election comes with a song?
Well, an unofficial one, of sorts. A new tune by Captain SKA has popped up during this truncated campaign. It’s called “Liar, Liar,” and it, well, calls May a liar for making a series of policy U-turns since she became Prime Minister.
It’s one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes and has more than 2 million views on YouTube, but you won’t hear it on UK airwaves. British radio stations have to be impartial leading up to elections, so it’ll be radio silence for the tune at least through Thursday.
So what do the experts think will happen?
Well, up until about a week ago, political observers thought May and the Conservatives would win a landslide victory. All the polls showed the Conservatives with double-digit leads, which would give her the mandate she wants for those Brexit negotiations.
But to everybody’s shock, Labour’s doing better than expected in some new polls. Some even think there’s a chance of a hung Parliament — meaning that no one party wins a majority of seats and a coalition would have to be formed to run the government.
If that happens, May wouldn’t have her majority — the whole reason she called for this thing in the first place. And so everybody would have to sit down and have a serious discussion on how they want the country to leave the EU.
A word of caution about this particular prediction, though. The polls weren’t exactly perfect before the last UK general election in 2015, and most polls had Brexit failing on the eve of last year’s vote. On the US side of the pond, we sure know what that’s like.
What happens after the election?
Whoever comes out on top in all of this won’t have much time to celebrate. Those tough Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU start just 11 days after the election, so the winning party will have to move quickly to form a new government.
Then there’s a ton of work to be done before March 2019, when — ready or not — the UK formally ends its 44-year run with the EU.