Theresa May has stated she isn’t going to call a general election before the one currently scheduled on 7 May 2020.
Well, that may not be entirely up to her.
Six years ago the government made sure referendums could not be legally binding. It left it up to the Commons and the Lords to decide whether or not they’d want to follow the electorate’s ‘advice’.
You can probably see where this is heading.
Before the referendum was held the BBC reported Remain MPs outnumbered Leave MPs 454 to 147.
If the power to invoke Brexit ultimately lies within the chambers of the Palace of Westminster, we might be headed for an impasse.
Sam Coates at The Times reasons it may very well be possible the Prime Minister will have no choice but to call an election.
Coates suggests it’s the ‘Tory Europhiles that hold the whip hand’ as Parliament could be a big stumbling block on the way to Brexit.
May’s Great Repeal Bill (or European Communities Bill), which ensures EU laws no longer apply unless transposed into UK law, is likely to be defeated in the Commons or the Lords.
“Early numbers look ominous. Even with the DUP, the government’s working majority is 34, meaning only 17 need to switch sides in a vote,” Coates wrote on Twitter.
He goes on to share an informal view which underlines that around five Tory MPs have been publicly critical while about 20 are privately signalling they’re prepared to snub the party line to get a ‘soft Brexit’.
“And that’s before the traditional right, who want Theresa May to contemplate WTO rules, find something to rebel on. Which they will,” Coates adds.
A defeat in the Commons would be very damaging indeed and could force the PM to call an election.
The Times’ deputy political editor concludes with a third suggestion, which is that May could hold a snap election right after she triggers Article 50.
A vote before unlocking Article 50
A general election before the Brexit procedure has been set in motion would find strong support in some quarters.
Britain’s at a crossroads and the path it chooses from here on will profoundly impact its future.
That’s a big task for any government to take on. It could be even tougher for a government with a slim majority facing ongoing calls to seek a clearer mandate through the ballot box.
The fact that May’s cabinet wasn’t elected by the British public could increase the pressure on this government during its EU exit negotiations.
The logic of calling an election before formally beginning the Brexit process is this: the newly elected government would have a direct mandate from the electorate to implement its vision for Brexit. This could end up being preferable to a situation where the May administration has the legitimacy of its actions continually called into question.
Although May has said she won’t provide running commentary on the negotiations, it’s an illusion to think these talks will be held in complete secrecy without any details reaching the public.
An election would also immediately make it clear to everyone what kind of Brexit we can expect, because, let’s be honest, nobody really knew what a vote to leave the EU exactly meant.
The terms ‘hard Brexit’ and ‘soft Brexit’ have only come to prominence in recent weeks. Even now there is a lack of common understanding about precisely what these different scenarios might mean.
Choosing a new government before Britain’s exit procedure starts would give Britons the chance to decide what kind of Brexit they want and by extension make it clear to everyone what kind of Brexit to expect.
An election after triggering the Brexit clause
Allowing the British people to elect a new government after triggering Article 50 makes things trickier.
Formally activating this clause starts a two-year countdown.
It doesn’t give much time to agree everything that needs agreeing on, especially with two parties staring each other in the face with neither willing to blink first.
Agreeing a deal by the end of this period is crucial, though, as Brexit minister David Davis admitted in Parliament this week.
Responding to questions in the Commons, Davis agreed that UK businesses would be severely damaged in the absence of a new trade deal with the EU by 2019.
“We need to conclude this within the two years to avoid any cliff edge,” he told Parliament on Thursday.
Otherwise British companies would be trading under World Trade Organisation rules, which would subject some 90 per cent of goods to tariffs.
Having a snap election during this extremely important period while the clock is ticking would be both a big distraction to the government and a waste of valuable time.
And that’s all the while assuming that May’s government is indeed returned to Downing Street.
If not, the EU would suddenly face a completely different negotiating team and everything agreed up to that point could go out of the window.
As I say, the government officially rules out the prospect of a snap election. But as we’ve seen, that isn’t stopping the rumours that one could happen.
The markets, including the currency market that has sent the pound to 31-year lows, continues to grapple with the uncertainty.
‘Brexit means Brexit’ is the semantically null sentence May said when she moved into 10 Downing Street.
And has repeated ever since.
It doesn’t tell us very much, does it?
It doesn’t tell the markets much either. That’s why the appetite to hold sterling has diminished – no one can be sure what will happen next.
The ongoing rumours swirling about a snap election only make it worse.
Sterling’s troubles may be far from over.