Less than one year after the historic referendum on whether to leave the European Union (a process known as Brexit), citizens of the United Kingdom will once again set down their mugs and make the short walk down to their local polling booths. On June 8, Britain will this time be voting in the general election, called for by Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after triggering Article 50, which signaled the beginning of formal EU exit negotiations. The outcome of the UK general election will, therefore, determine who will lead Britain through the tough negotiations involved in the still-ambiguously defined Brexit, and the numerous challenges facing the country in the transition period thereafter.
With Britain suffering three recent terror attacks in as many months, the issue of security and the crackdown on extremism has also moved to the forefront of the debate, though not to the benefit of either main candidate. May’s cuts to police numbers have received much scrutiny, but, rather unsurprisingly, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to publicly denounce the IRA has left many skeptical of how effectively he would counter extremism. These have emerged as the main two topics of debate in this race (as well as public spending and the National Health Service, as usual) and will likely be the issues on which this election is decided.
But didn’t the UK just have a general election?
Yes, Britain’s last general election was just two years ago, and in light of that and May’s frequent insistence that the next election wouldn’t occur until 2020, the announcement of this “snap election” came as a surprise to many. Unlike most parliamentary systems, Britain does have a fixed-term policy (introduced in 2011), but the early call for an election is allowed due to receiving a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons.
So, perfectly legal. But wise? I may have a harder time convincing you of that. A glance at the latest polls has certainly led many to look upon this decision with some head-scratching to say the least.
Theresa May (leader of the Conservative party, which generally leans center-right, in addition to being Prime Minister) claims that she called this election to establish political stability before entering into Brexit negotiations, but her opponents have labeled her an opportunist, capitalizing on floundering poll numbers in support of Labour (the other major party, which leans left) and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The demonstration of overwhelming public support for May could prove vital in how she conducts her Brexit negotiations, allowing her more flexibility in crafting her personal interpretation of the best deal for Britain, and silencing the voices of backbenchers skeptical of her leadership style.
However, this contest between May’s “strong and stable leadership” and Corbyn’s drastic, leftist policy proposals is proving to be much closer than many anticipated. Polls currently predict a margin of just a few points, with neither party winning a majority (though the Conservative party defied similar polls in 2015 to win a majority, so these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt). Running on the slogan of “For the Many; Not the Few”, Corbyn’s manifesto has certainly found many more supporters than expected, and Britain could be on its way to a “hung parliament”. One option in this case is that the largest party goes ahead and forms a minority government, as Labour has done before and wants to do again, though this can be tremendously difficult to manage. The other option is a scramble between the parties to find common ground, compromise, and form a coalition government (gaining a majority between them), as we saw in 2010.
But what are the implications associated with the outcome of this election? Some changes are more evident than others, but I wish to outline what this election could mean for Brexit, how it may affect Britain’s relations with the United States, and what potential changes could be upcoming for Christians living in the UK.
Both leaders opposed the decision to break away from the EU, yet May, a master of keeping her personal opinions to herself, has taken pride in her commitment to heed the voice of the people and achieve “the best deal for Britain”. For her, this has meant a “hard Brexit”: claiming that “no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK”. She also intends to pass a Great Repeal Bill to convert all EU law into UK law, and promises to greatly reduce net migration to just tens of thousands.
Corbyn doesn’t convey the same enthusiasm. The Labour manifesto rejects “no deal” as a viable option, and pledges to scrap the current negotiations, along with the Great Repeal Bill, and begin afresh with “an emphasis on the single market and customs union”. Furthermore, Labour has refused to put a number, or “false promise”, to their immigration reduction goals, with Corbyn refusing to give any more information than that immigration numbers will decrease, “probably”. According to its manifesto, Labour “accepts the referendum result”, but it doesn’t appear to fully embrace it with the same fervor as May. Its goal is to “end Theresa May’s reckless approach” and negotiate a much softer deal than the one she is threatening the EU with.
Unlike several of the smaller parties, neither the Conservative nor Labour parties have suggested calling a second referendum to determine what “Brexit” actually means. Their very different interpretations will lead to very different outcomes for the UK, and may also affect the US to different extents. British dependence on its “special relationship” with the US would likely increase with a harder break from the EU—even more so should no deal be reached.
There are also questions surrounding the future of Britain’s military partnership with the US. Britain, which has historically been rather happy to intervene abroad and support the US in foreign conflict zones, may be freer to work bilaterally with the US once separated from the EU, which has been progressing towards an integrated EU foreign and security policy. This may be true under May, who has been accused of being “subservient” to President Trump, but is far less likely should Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister. The Labour manifesto openly proclaims that:
Since the Second World War, Britain’s most important diplomatic relationship has been with the US. But that special relationship is based on shared values. When the current Trump administration chooses to ignore them, whether by discriminating on the basis of religion or breaking its climate change commitments, we will not be afraid to disagree.
Corbyn’s strong anti-military intervention stance, controversial desire to cease Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent program, and previous reluctance to meet with President Trump spell out a slightly different future for the special relationship on all fronts. A Labour government could well mean an economic and legal distancing from the EU, with a concurrent leaning back towards continental Europe, and thereby away from the US, in a cultural and ideological sense.
Finally, I don’t believe there is clear candidate for whom Christians should vote. Though Theresa May openly professes to be a practicing member of the Church of England, it is unclear how much her beliefs affect her policy choices. To her credit, she has spoken out in defense of Christians specifically and their right to speak openly about their faith without fear, though Corbyn too is a strong advocate for religious tolerance in general. That said, under both governments in recent years traditional Christian values have faced increasing criticism and decreasing freedom, which is only likely to increase with further anti-extremism measures, meant to keep a check on all religiously affiliated groups.
Furthermore, unlike the Republican-Democrat divide in the US, both major UK parties were strong proponents of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and favor abortion rights for women. This is a much stronger priority for Labour (traditionally the more liberal of the two), however, which pledges in its manifesto to extend those rights to women in Northern Ireland. Labour’s more liberal stance is further evidenced in their policies regarding a range of issues from genetically-modified babies to the legalization of cannabis. On the other hand, it can be argued that the more socially liberal Labour Party’s strong commitments to social justice, equality, and anti-discrimination are noble causes that Christians should endorse, and are not championed in the same way by Conservative domestic policy.
The vote, then, for Christians, essentially comes down to which leader and party they believe will deliver on the sort of Brexit deal they desire, best ensure their nation is secure and stable, and best preserve the traditional, Christian values of their society—all of which are open to interpretation and opinion. In my opinion, there is no “right” outcome for which all Christians should hope, but we ought to remain informed on these issues and their implications in order to seek the wellbeing of our cities and nations.
For those watching from this side of the Atlantic, including me (a British student studying in the US), there is reason to be praying for this election for the good of both of our nations. This could be a tremendous time of cultural and political transition for Britain, and, as a result, a profoundly stretching or strengthening time for the historically and mutually prosperous relationship between our nations, regardless of how this unpredictable election ends.
Matthew Allen is an intern for Providence. Originally from Plymouth, UK, he is currently a student in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where he is working towards a B.A. in Public Policy and International Affairs. He is particularly interested in the promotion of human rights and advocacy for the poor, oppressed, and voiceless around the globe.
Photo Credit: by TaylorHerring, via Flickr.
 This is the most Jeremy Corbyn would say when pressed by journalist Jeremy Paxman on Sky News’ “May v Corbyn: The Battle for Number 10”