Brexit will define this General Election but it is important to remember that this not another referendum.
All the reasons why Theresa May has called this general election originate from Britain’s decision to vote to leave the EU last year. Be it defeating Labour or ensuring the Great Repeal Bill can go through the Lords. This all stems from the Brexit vote. Although the outcome of that vote made her Prime Minister, Theresa May does now run the risk of re-opening those schisms that appeared during the EU referendum campaign.
Businesses who are vocal in their support for continued access to the EU single market may see the election campaign as a golden opportunity to put forward their case for a soft-Brexit. The Financial Times newspaper has claimed that this is why we saw the pound jump off the back of the announcement of a snap election. However, for both the FT and business this is wishful thinking. Theresa May has partly called this election due to internal Conservative Party pressure and therefore a softening on the hard-Brexit rhetoric seems unlikely. Backbench groups, like the 1922 Committee, have called for this election because they can now put their hard-Brexit policy wishes into their manifesto. This instantly circumnavigates the potential legislative headache presented by a Conservative minority in the Lords. Meanwhile don’t expect the main newspapers that backed Brexit to suddenly go soft. Why would they? In fact they are more likely to turn up the heat as their influence on the electorate is there for all to see.
The fact that this General Election will also take place after the French Presidential Elections (23rd April) should not be underestimated. The current polling of Marie Le Pen and the late surge of Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon makes Frexit a possibility. If Theresa May is campaigning in favour of a hard Brexit, knowing that the French are also following suit, this completely changes the paradigm of future Brexit negotiations. For the EU, the UK leaving was troublesome. But if the French and the Brits are leaving, then this becomes an existential crisis like the EU has never before experienced.
For Theresa May there is a perceived risk that since the EU referendum some of those who voted leave now regret their decision. However, for this to translate into the Conservatives’ losing their majority then it is going to require more than the 600,000 voters who swayed the EU referendum. Due to the first past the post system we would have to see millions of people changing their mind in order to see one of the greatest political miscalculations and Theresa May standing down.
However, it could be argued that this does give the Remain campaign another crack of the whip. But they can’t just rehash a losing campaign. Do they continue to push for a total reversal of the June 2016 referendum or do they look to back soft-Brexit? Other questions remain on who would actually lead such a campaign. It certainly won’t be Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn as he struggles to find credible line on Brexit. The Lib Dems and Greens have a clearer position and may be able to profit from an anti-Brexit vote. But this won’t be enough to turn the tide of public sentiment against the Conservatives and in favour of the opposition parties.
So the key battleground of the General Election is clear. It would seem that leavers have a much easier task, while the Remainers have to start again.