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Poll will influence UK attitude to Brexit

By Wang Yiwei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-08 07:35


Amid fears and confusion over the London Bridge terror attack, in which seven people were killed and 48 injured, the United Kingdom is set to go to the polls on Thursday. Undaunted by the three terror attacks in the UK in less than three months, Prime Minister Theresa May said her administration will step up the fight against Islamist extremism and complete the UK's divorce with the European Union on schedule.

Ideally, a victory in the snap polls she has called will make May a legitimately elected leader, rather than a makeshift choice by the Conservative Party. That might give her administration a bigger say in negotiating the UK's departure from the EU, grant her party more seats in the House of Commons, and instill in the public a sense of unity in the face of Brexit negotiations.

What the future holds for May and her party is not clear, though, because of the several outstanding challenges she faces. Since the two terror attacks within two weeks (Manchester Arena on May 21 and London Bridge on June 3) laid bare the security threat, May is right to press ahead with the election as planned and act tough against radical Islamism.

But the fact is, the country that managed to rein in terrorism-related crimes for more than a decade has been hit hard after she became prime minister. Which does not look good for the image of her party or her leadership and can add more uncertainty to the Brexit proceedings.

The task of alleviating the economic woes and the thirst for immigrant workers, too, looks daunting. The latest statistics show the UK's GDP growth hit a yearly low of about 0.2 percent in the first quarter. The decision to leave the EU could be responsible for that, and the ensuing economic plight could do yet more damage to the Brexit negotiations.

The departure of about 40,000 foreign citizens from the post-Brexit UK has caused a labor shortage and hit productivity in the country. Some enterprises are worried that the May administration's pledge to keep the annual quota for immigrants under 100,000 will lead to "catastrophic consequences", as the country needs at least 200,000 immigrants to tide over the foreseeable economic problems.

Tighter immigration policy may quell public fear over radical terrorism. But it could also shrink the UK's economy by 1.5 percent to 3 percent by 2025, adding nearly £15.6 billion ($20.13 billion) to public debt.

May's Conservative Party promises to pull the UK out of the EU single market and customs union regardless of how the negotiations work out. The opposition Labour Party argues Brexit proceedings can only continue when both sides come to an agreement. The Liberal Democrats hint at a second referendum, while the Scottish National Party says Brexit has endangered employment, investment and people's livelihoods.

On domestic affairs, May and her Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn also have different views. While May has vowed to grant workers more power and urge more seniors to cover their social security expenses in an attempt to attract young voters, Corbyn proposes to nationalize the railways and the energy sector and impose higher taxes on high-income families.

And no matter which party wins the election, the result will surely have a decisive impact on the UK's attitude toward Brexit negotiations and how it recalibrates its ties with the EU.

The author is a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China.

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