Your Thoughts: UK Snap Election – Lawyer Monthly | Legal News Magazine

Your Thoughts: UK Snap Election

Last week UK PM Theresa May announced a snap general election set for June 2017, to “guarantee certainty and security.” Since 2011, parliamentary terms state calls to election every five years and, even before this, elections were commonly only called by prime ministers every four or so years.

This announcement came on the back of previous remarks saying she would not call a snap election, and media tumult has ensued. The House of commons then proceeded to vote in approval of the election, and now two parties are in par facing.

Below, a number of contributors share their thoughts with Lawyer Monthly on the impact, both immediate and long term, of this snap election in the UK.

Liam McMonagle, Partner, Thorntons:

Well, firstly, it seems the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is barely worth the paper it’s written on and hasn’t really made any practical change to the previous position whereby a Prime Minister could call an election more or less at will.

Secondly, it will be interesting to see whether the Brexit vote has changed UK politics to something we’re more used to seeing in Northern Ireland and, recently, Scotland.  There, dividing lines are now set primarily around constitutional issues rather than left/ right.  Labour will want to talk about austerity, fiscal unfairness and degraded public services but the Brexit process is the pretext under which the election has been called and is crowding out most other topics of discussion.

Thirdly, for those of us in Scotland we are probably headed for a messy outcome where all sides could claim victory.  Just gaining one extra seat would double the Tory, Labour or Lib Dem parliamentary headcount who would claim any sort of progress is significant and evidence that SNP popularity has peaked.  Even then, however, the SNP seem likely to retain most of their Scottish seats which would be claimed as endorsement for a second independence referendum and opposition to a hard Brexit in the next parliament.  The most likely outcome – a Conservative win with an increased majority – will leave the UK and Scottish Governments with clear, but diametrically opposed, mandates and policy priorities for the next 4 years as the Brexit process takes shape.

Fourthly, in a world of badly-kept secrets, it’s hard not to be impressed at how quiet the story was kept until Theresa May announced it.

Lynn Sedgwick, Managing Director, Clayton Legal:

The announcement that we are to face an election in just a few short weeks has come as a shock especially since Theresa May has, on several occasions, said that a General Election wouldn’t be until 2020. However, given the huge uncertainty in the air that Brexit has caused, a win for the Conservatives and a clear mandate behind May, should enable the new government to effectively focus on negotiations for a post Brexit Britain.  There are so many ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ surrounding our future relationship with Europe – from trade deals to freedom of movements laws – so I am hopeful that a win for the Tories with a larger majority behind them can only be a good thing for businesses and professionals in the UK. However, a reduction in their overall majority could potentially make ongoing negotiations a rocky road.

Carl Reader, Author of The Start Up Coach, Co-owner of Dennis & Turnbull, Co-founder of The Bear Group:

My belief is that the self-employed space will become a warzone between the two major parties. Whilst Conservatives have historically been seen as pro-business, the recent attack on the self-employed with national insurance changes would have unsettled the vast number of “solopreneurs”, the numbers of which have swelled with the increase of platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo. Combined with the potentially dubious practices exercised by some corporates who engage self-employed workers to avoid employment obligations; I believe that Labour will focus on this workforce as a potentially untapped source of voters. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the respective manifestos!

Anthony Woolich, Head of competition and regulation, Partner, HFW:

Prime Minister May’s announcement of the upcoming snap election is a shrewd move, and one that appears generally to be seen in a positive light across the EU. Having a strong leadership in place, which is unfettered by a domestic political tightrope, is intended to give the UK the best possible chance of a smooth exit from the EU.

A smooth exit is, at the moment, contingent in part on the UK agreeing an exit payment with the EU, with Brussels reported to be starting the negotiations at around €60bn. Following a convincing victory in the snap election, Britain’s leader should have more flexibility to agree terms, and quickly – whereas delays could prolong uncertainty about the UK’s exit terms as well as its future trading relationship with the EU.

There is, however, still a lot of uncertainty for business, as Mrs May’s own line is difficult to determine, as is the likely response of the EU. From a politician who voted remain (although notably, didn’t campaign too strongly on this), to one whose rhetoric has veered towards a hard Brexit, the snap election should allow us to get a better understanding of what an ‘elected-in-her-own-right’ May would do going forward.  Clarification of the EU’s position may need to await the outcome of the German election in October 2017.

However, this is not to say that leaving the EU will be easy. Indeed, my conversations with people across the Channel has confirmed that even if the EU does honour its openness to considering a ‘going forward’ deal before we have agreed an exit deal, we are in for a bumpy ride. The EU will want to seek a balance between the message it sends to the other twenty-seven member states, and the UK’s valuable contribution to the bloc including its strong financial services industry, monetary contributions, intelligence and defence, as well as its pre-eminent legal services.

Darren Maw, Managing Director, Vista:

It is inevitable that during this snap election, Brexit will be the biggest campaign battleground.

For lawyers, Brexit has a potentially far-reaching impact, more so than traditional political battlegrounds. EU law as it applies on our jurisdiction will require repatriation, and even settled interpretations may be re-opened. The Brexit government will have to grapple with the thorny issue of where the repatriated powers will sit when they come back from Brussels. In campaigning for votes and attempting to appeal to ever more nationalised (or localised) priorities, there is an increasing risk that legal cohesion will suffer.

Of course it is not just Brexit, calls for a further independence referendum in Scotland take it further still. In pursuing these causes, the narrative ignores the day-to-day value and importance of a largely unified approach to some legal rights heavily regulated by the EU, such as employment rights.

Conversations about repatriation of powers when caught up in issues of ‘national identity’ (for the nationals of the UK) tend to ignore how we function as a society. The value of a UK wide legislative framework and justice system, which already has some regional variations, should be recognised and valued.

This snap election will be costly, because there is no time for political entities to think through policy properly. It is difficult to be confident in impromptu manifestos that are required to have ever more granular detail.

Recent political history shows the rise of the demagogue – in the US and Europe. In the race to win the popular votes over the next few weeks, we should guard against exploiting the nationalist concerns (or nationalist pride), by repatriation rhetoric of post-Brexit powers, which could cause a genuine issue for the cohesion of our legal system.

Politics of taxation, defence, education and the like are qualitatively different from the legislative protections and freedoms that individual citizens receive, and cannot be inextricably bundled together. Our parliament is our legislature as well as the home of our political leaders – it needs to act like both, including during elections.

Mark Briegal, Partner, Aaron & Partners LLP:

My initial thought is a rather technical constitutional law point that took me back to my days at law school.  One of the precepts of our unwritten constitution is that Parliament cannot bind future Parliaments.  That arcane point means that Parliament is supreme and can’t pass a law that fetters a future Parliament’s rights to pass or repeal laws; there are other checks and balances along the way.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act said no snap elections without a two thirds majority in the House of Commons.  Alternatively, Parliament could have voted on a simple majority to repeal the Act!  At the first opportunity, Parliament voted overwhelmingly for an election; I assume that opposition parties will nearly always want an election in the hope that they will win more seats.

This links interestingly to the whole Brexit question as the European Communities Act passed in 1972 may possibly bind future Parliaments.  Whilst Parliament could easily repeal that Act, it would not undo the treaties made under the act – and that is where the Brexit challenges lie.

Some specific issues affect legislation that was proposed or in progress.

We don’t know what will happen to that legislation in the new Parliament.  One casualty so far is the dropping of the Prison and Courts Bill, which would have altered the whole landscape of personal injury legislation.  This gives lawyers in that field some breathing space – but it is likely to be reintroduced as the current government (if they get in again – as is suggested) are keen on it.

However, the next Parliament is going to be pretty busy with Brexit legislation and so other bills will have little time for debate. For a detailed review of what bills may or not make it through see here.

The big issue with any election is uncertainty, which is not good for business and, following the global political turmoil of the past few years, the public are less certain on opinion polls, so may be nervous of the outcome.

We would also love to hear more of Your Thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below and tell us what you think!

Leave A Reply