Theresa May’s Pyrrhic Victory

LONDON – The British election called by Prime Minister Theresa May for June 8 will transform the outlook for Britain’s politics and its relationship with Europe, but not necessarily in the way that a vastly increased majority for May’s Conservative Party might seem to imply. The scorched-earth defeat that Conservative Euroskeptics expect to inflict on Britain’s internationalist and progressive forces was symbolized by the Daily Mail headline on May’s election announcement: “Crush the Saboteurs.” But June’s resounding victory could ultimately lead to an even more stunning reversal, like Napoleon’s hubristic march on Moscow after he had destroyed all opposition in Western Europe.

Britain’s pro-European progressive forces could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for three related reasons.


First, by bringing forward the British election, May has effectively extended the deadline for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union from 2019 until 2022. The early election makes it inevitable that Britain will formally leave the EU in March 2019, because May will no longer face even the theoretical possibility of parliamentary opposition. But it also allows Britain to accept a long transition period after the 2019 departure deadline, so that businesses and administrative systems can adjust to whatever terms are agreed by then.