Setting the course before Brexit

British voters head to the polls today to elect a new parliament and by extension the leader who will negotiate the Brexit deal: Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May or her Labour challenger Jeremy Corbyn. Who should supporters of a soft Brexit choose?

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The Irish Times (IE) /

A tactical vote against a hard Brexit

British Europhiles should vote for the centre-left candidate with the best prospects in their constituency, The Irish Times urges:

“The next general election had not been due until 2020, a year after the UK's scheduled departure from the EU, but voters now have the chance to slam on the brakes. It's true Labour has committed to following through with Brexit, but they are open to a 'softer' version. Were they to end up in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, they would almost certainly hold a second referendum on the final deal. That is why everyone against a hard Brexit should vote tactically for the candidate who is best-placed to beat the Tory in their constituency.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Pro-Europeans need strong Tories

Gazeta Wyborcza, by contrast, advises the pro-European camp to vote for the Tories:

“The issue now is whether they will gain an absolute majority - which is very likely - and how big that majority will be. Paradoxically a sweeping Tory victory would be better for the pro-European camp than a narrow victory - because such a victory would make May independent of the Eurosceptic hardliners in her party and give her more leeway in the negotiations with the EU. If May wins by a narrow margin the country will face laborious coalition negotiations and political chaos. Unless the Labour Party wins a sensational victory.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

May needs a good slap in the face

Failure at the polls might bring Theresa May to her senses on the Brexit, Il Sole 24 Ore writes hopefully:

“In the meantime Trump's silence in Brussels on Article 5 of the Nato Treaty not only throws into doubt Atlantic solidarity in the case of an attack on a Nato member, but has also besmirched the traditionally privileged British-American ties. And that's not all. Not only is the Brexit no longer greeted with enthusiasm in Washington, there is also no longer any talk of bilateral free trade agreements. ... While Merkel's Germany is calling on Europe to take its fate into its own hands, May's Britain is discovering that isolation wouldn't be all that wonderful. Will this be enough to bring about a change of heart? That would be the logical move. Only Brexit was never a well-considered, rational step, making it hard to turn back. But doubts are being voiced, and a resounding slap in the face for May could do more to make them heard.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Don't forget globalisation's losers

Europe's politicians must shape globalisation in a way that is beneficial to all, Berlingske urges on the morning of the British vote:

“If the right political conditions for historic growth are created, one can be sure that everyone - the economy, the people and the welfare state - will benefit from the blessings of globalisation. The anti-globalist stance that has influenced a string of elections in the West is not constructive. But those running for office would do well to recognise that globalism has also created losers, even if society as a whole has benefited. ... It's important that everyone, and not just Chinese workers and London bankers, should benefit. Otherwise the people - as the Brexit referendum showed - will vote with their thumbs down.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Prime minister on the defensive

Theresa May will now be wondering whether the snap election really was a good idea, Deutschlandfunk suspects:

“Because the Brexit is not the most contentious topic in the parliamentary elections. There are three powerful issues that will influence the way people vote: Brexit, social policy and now also terrorism. … Clearly she was so fixated on the idea of being elected as a shining beacon capable of managing Brexit, the project of the century, that she has now ended up on the defensive on what, as former home secretary, is her very own domain. Prime Minister Theresa May got off to a good start and carefully steered British politics through the first storms after the referendum. But now that the country is experiencing one of its worst crises she unfortunately hasn't been able to maintain her poised stance.”

Kaleva (FI) /

May has lost her room for manoeuvre

Just like Cameron before the Brexit referendum May miscalculated her chances in the election, writes Kaleva:

“Once again a British prime minister has severely misjudged the situation with the decision to call the population to the polls. Like her predecessor David Cameron, who, confident of a victory, decided to hold the referendum on continued EU membership, May has seen her popularity wane in the same fateful way. … In the spring it looked like May would score a landslide victory. She had a lead of over 20 percentage points against her opponents. But then the Conservatives' lead began to shrink and the Labour Party started catching up. A narrow victory against Labour would be a major defeat for May. It would result in the two parties having almost equal power in domestic and foreign policy and dominate the Brexit negotiations.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Election could mark start of UK's collapse

For Jutarnji list this election is historic because it could fundamentally change the UK:

“Corbyn has insinuated several times that he can envisage a new referendum on independence in Scotland. Scotland's most powerful woman, Nicola Sturgeon, has let it be known that a coalition with 'the Tories' rival' is not out of the question. For Corbyn that's not an option. But if neither side gains an absolute majority tomorrow, a Labour-SNP coalition is considered very likely. ... And what the Scottish nationalists would demand in the coalition negotiations is crystal clear: a new referendum.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Isolation would be fatal now

As far as both terrorism and the relationship with Europe are concerned, isolation is not the solution for Britain, Die Presse warns:

“Because the population now fears immigration, any form of participation in the single market is being questioned. London is putting up fences left, right and centre. And everything that happens as the liberal image of society is abandoned will sooner or later also affect the economy. ... In view of the uncertainty that the Brexit and terrorism are causing, it would be a tactical mistake for May to focus too much on personal liberties. What's important, however, is that she doesn't destroy the emotional anchor for such claims. The British have always seen themselves more as the centre of the world than as isolated island dwellers. Their political will has always cut through the fetters of national borders. For that reason choosing to shut themselves off economically and socially in some sort of secured national enclosure would be fatal.”

El País (ES) /

Brexit calls for another referendum

Even if Theresa May wins, she must let the citizens vote on the final terms of Brexit, political scientist Daniel Innerarity writes in El País:

“To put Brexit into practice will require not just the initial mandate but also public support for the actual terms of the separation. This is the purpose of the snap election, which may improve May's position from a quantitative perspective but won't modify the problem from a qualitative perspective. Bringing the elections forward won't prevent all the contradictions from becoming obvious or change the fact that a second referendum should be held on the result of the negotiations with the European Union. This will complicate the situation at a time when democracies have become bazaars offering simplified solutions.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

May destroying Labour's identity

The Conservative prime minister's election campaign is disastrous for the opposition Labour Party, Jutarnji list observes:

“This election is a terrific opportunity for May to annihilate Labour once and for all. She has marched to the left regarding economic policy while remaining firmly on the right regarding social issues. May has stolen Labour's social competences and left it with nothing but its anti-capitalist blubbering and esoteric political ideas. The prime minister donned her red dress to strip left-leaning voters of their senses and seduce them into voting for the Tories. And there are clear signs that this strategy will pay off. But there is also the possibility that May is really serious about what she says. After all, she's the most left-leaning leader the British Conservative Party has had for the past 40 years.”

The Independent (GB) /

Brexit calculations up in the air

The Independent, by contrast, feels that a disappointing election result for May would considerably weaken her negotiating position vis-à-vis the EU:

“The Government's mandate would be a lot less convincing than it would have been without a vote. ... One consequence could be that the initiative passes from the Government to Parliament. ... Whether there would be a sufficient number of MPs prepared to challenge the legitimacy of Brexit, or call for a new referendum, or - as the Liberal Democrats propose - legislate for a referendum on the actual terms of Brexit, would probably depend on many other considerations. But there could well be tempestuous times in the new parliament that would throw many of the May Government's Brexit calculations up in the air.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Theresa May the turncoat

The fact that the Tories are just a few points ahead of Labour in the polls is above all due to May's constant about-faces, Il Sole 24 Ore believes:

“The campaign has zeroed in on the personalities of the two leaders, and precisely this is likely to seal the prime minister's fate. Her striking lack of empathy toward the public is compounded her constant changes of opinion. ... Originally a remainer she has now morphed into a hard and inflexible Brexiteer; she proposes truly bizarre taxes to finance social care for dementia patients, only to withdraw the proposals shortly afterwards amid a storm of criticism. She tries to lure Labour voters with a social interpretation of her brand of conservatism, which stands in stark contrast to the principles of Thatcherism that have been the foundation of the Tory party - and the country - for many years.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Tories and Labour leaving voters in the dark

Both major parties have avoided presenting their Brexit plans during the election campaign, the Financial Times complains:

“Far from being strong and stable, Mrs May has looked curiously brittle. She has failed to offer a credible picture of what life outside the EU's single market and customs union will look like, let alone the economic trade-offs that will inevitably form part of the Brexit end-game. The opposition Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership has been equally vague. Both sides have engaged in a conspiracy of silence. This is deeply unsatisfactory. Britain's departure from the EU is happening at a time of great geopolitical uncertainty.”

New Statesman (GB) /

May's empty threat to the EU

In the TV debate between Corbyn and May the latter repeated her statement that no Brexit deal for Britain would be better than a bad one. May is talking nonsense, the New Statesman sighs:

“If you sell or buy goods to the nations of the EU, or if you buy or sell goods from outside the EU that come to Britain via the EU, 'no deal' means that your shipments will be stopped at ports, as there will be no agreement about the size of tariffs and what you can legally transport over borders of EU member states. ... Forget Theresa May's claim that Britain is ready and willing to walk away from 'a bad deal' - as it stands, Britain isn't even ready for what her government thinks a good deal is. We haven't staffed up to deal with a greater volume of customs checks when we are outside the customs union.”

The Times (GB) /

Anti-Corbyn campaign hurting Tories

The Tories and their candidate Theresa May have adopted the wrong campaign strategy, The Times believes:

“It also appears that the Conservatives' brutal assaults on the Labour leader are backfiring. Wavering former Labour supporters, who were flirting with voting Tory for the first time, are being pushed back into the Labour fold. Voters - who actually rather like the populist policies in Mr Corbyn's manifesto - feel insulted. The Tories are starting to look like bullies. By attempting to highlight Labour's failings they are simply reinforcing their own flaws. ... Mrs May has undermined her credibility during this campaign, which means her authority will be lessened if she does return to No 10. There must be more to politics than Project Fear.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Campaign highlights May's weaknesses

The fact that the Tories have focused their campaign entirely on Theresa May could backfire in view of her recent slip-ups, The Guardian points out:

“The campaign has made some of her deficiencies more apparent to her fellow Tories, the media and the electorate. The dreadful mess she got herself into over social care was a defining moment. ... She is still on course to win, but it will not be the unvarnished victory that she was looking for when she began this campaign. Her armour has been dented and some of its chinks have been exposed to a wider audience. A campaign designed to profit from her opponent’s weaknesses has turned out to be most educative about her own flaws.”

El País (ES) /

Tory victory can't be taken for granted

No one should rely on polls in this election year, El Pais warns:

“We are living in volatile times in which nothing can be taken for granted before it happens, and certainly not an election victory. Starting with Brexit we have experienced a year in which the ballot boxes have churned out one unexpected result after another. Trump won a surprise victory, within the space of a few months the newcomer Macron became French president, Manuel Valls suffered a crushing defeat in the Socialist primaries in France and countering the predictions and the entire PSOE apparatus Pedro Sánchez has just won primaries that were very much against him. Now elections are imminent in the UK and many have begun to tremble. A month ago Theresa May was 22 points ahead of her Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn in the polls. But on May 21 a shiver must have gone down her spine when four polls indicated that her lead was shrinking.”