The Brexit Diaries - election special: Was Theresa May right to call a snap election?

PRWeek has partnered with insight and strategy consultancy BritainThinks in a unique project to take the temperature of both leave and remain voters. Diarists will be canvassed for their views at crucial moments during the two-year Brexit process, following the triggering of Article 50.

The opinion of leave and remain voter towards Jeremy Corbyn makes uncomfortable reading for Labour
The opinion of leave and remain voter towards Jeremy Corbyn makes uncomfortable reading for Labour

Theresa May’s shock decision to call a general election for 8 June stunned Westminster and took the country by surprise.

But how have voters responded to the Prime Minister’s decision? Do they believe an election is necessary? And what will be the big issues of the campaign?

Our Brexit Diaries panel of voters – recording the views of 100 citizens across Britain, 52 who voted to leave and 48 who voted to remain – reveals some significant concerns.

Many leave voters are suspicious of any additional hurdles placed in the way of Brexit.

So for them, the election has now raised a question mark over something they thought was finally settled.

As one leave-voting diarist commented, "Parliament has already supported the triggering of Article 50. Why do we need an election now? Is the PM trying to wriggle out of it? She should just get on and deliver".

In particular, the election has heightened existing suspicions that Theresa May has never fully signed up to Brexit.

Another diarist wrote: "This is just another referendum by stealth, called by a PM who was originally pro-Remain. I don’t trust her – I don’t think she’s fully committed to Brexit".

At the other end of the spectrum, our remain-voting diarists are equally sceptical of the Prime Minister’s claim that she needs a mandate to prevent the Opposition from frustrating the process of leaving.

In fact, these voters think the exact opposite is true: "I wish they had tried to stop Brexit! The other political parties did nothing to stop it – she didn’t lose a single vote in Parliament on Brexit".

Overall, the view of our diarists is that last year’s referendum decided the Brexit question, and so this election is unnecessary.

To them, this is just a cynical move by a typical politician seeking party political gain. "She just wants to take advantage of the lack of opposition to be in power for a further five years"; "Theresa May wants to consolidate the Conservative Party’s position in government – Brexit is just a smokescreen".

However, though they might not want it, now the election is happening, there are only two issues of importance to voters: Brexit and leadership.

Our leave diarists see this as an opportunity to put the question of Brexit beyond doubt: "there is only one issue – I will vote to make sure we leave"; "I voted for Brexit and I would like to make sure I’m represented by a Brexit MP".

Many remain diarists, on the other hand, see this as the last chance for the country to reconsider: "I think my opposition to the Brexit issue will be the most important thing influencing the way I vote".
But what unites all our diarists is the question of leadership.

Our leave voters want the leader most likely to deliver Brexit: "there needs to be a strong leader and a strong government to lead us through to conclusion".

While for remain voters, a strong leader is necessary when it’s 27 against one: "I want Britain to try and get the best deal we can. We need a strong leader to achieve that".

Most tellingly, when we asked our diarists who is best placed to provide this leadership for the UK, every single leave diarist said Theresa May, but not one remain diarist picked Jeremy Corbyn.

Voters may not like the Prime Minister’s decision to call an election, but there is very little risk to her in having done so.

Spencer Livermore is a partner at BritainThinks

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