London, United Kingdom | AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprise call for a snap general election comes with the country facing a host of challenges — all closely bound up with the country’s exit from the European Union.
Here are some of the major issues May or her successor will be taking on after the proposed June 8 vote.
– Brexit negotiations –
On March 29, Britain formally gave notice to the other 27 EU nations that it was leaving the bloc, starting a two-year countdown to Brexit. The main issues include Britain’s multi-billion-euro exit bill and the rights of European citizens living in Britain and vice versa.
The incoming prime minister will be under pressure at home to get a deal that secures Britain’s interests in Europe, while the EU is determined that Britain should not get a better deal by leaving the bloc than it had as a member.
Negotiations were due to start in late May or early June, and the EU says this timetable has not changed.
– Immigration –
Mass EU migration into Britain was a major issue in the run-up to the June 23 EU referendum, with “Leave” campaigners arguing that quitting the bloc was the only way to control numbers.
May has promised to cut immigration, even at the expense of leaving Europe’s single market, for which freedom of movement of labour is a key principle.
But some sectors of the economy, notably hospitality and agriculture, are worried about losing an important part of their workforce.
Brexit has also thrown the lives of more than three million EU citizens living in Britain into uncertainty — will they be able to stay in the country and under what conditions?
– Economy –
The British economy has been performing better than expected since the referendum, but the final exit deal has yet to take shape.
May is seeking the “maximum possible access” for British firms to the single market, amid concerns about the impact of leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc on jobs and growth.
But hammering out a trade deal will be a huge task, with Britain short of experienced negotiators, and the prospect of falling back on basic World Trade Organization rules looms large in the background.
London’s commanding position as Europe’s financial hub could be threatened, with banks potentially set to lose “passporting rights” that allow them to sell services across the EU.
– Scotland –
The unity of the United Kingdom has come under renewed pressure in the wake of the Brexit vote, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month asking May for a fresh referendum on independence.
Scotland rejected independence in a 2014 vote but Sturgeon says circumstances have now changed, as most Scots voted “Remain” in the Brexit poll.
Whoever takes power in Westminster will have to find a way to manage pressure from Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, which dominates politics north of the border.
– Security –
Last month’s deadly attack outside the British parliament brought the question of terror back into the foreground. It followed a series of Islamic State-inspired attacks around Europe in recent years and there are fears about British jihadists returning from fighting Syria and Iraq.
In her letter notifying the EU of Brexit, May alarmed European capitals by warning that failing to reach a deal on trade would weaken the fight against terrorism, though Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson later said Britain would not use security cooperation as leverage in talks.