Theresa May said political unity was integral for Britain to exit from the EU. (Reuters: Stefan Wermuth)
Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an early general election to be held on June 8 to seek a strong mandate as she negotiates Britain’s exit from the European Union.
- PM Theresa May announces plans for June 8 election
- Says divisions in the Parliament are a “risk” to Brexit talks
- Labour supports snap election, but Nicola Sturgeon criticises the move
Ms May said she needed to strengthen her hand in divorce talks with the European Union by shoring up support for her Brexit plan.
Standing outside 10 Downing Street, Ms May said she would ask the House of Commons on Wednesday to back her call for an election, three years before the next scheduled date in May 2020.
She said that since Britons voted to leave the EU in June the country had come together, but politicians had not and those divisions “risk [the UK’s] ability to make a success of Brexit”.
At present, Ms May’s governing Conservatives have 330 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons.
“Our opponents believe that because the Government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course” she said.
“They are wrong. They underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.”
Under Britain’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, elections are held every five years, but the prime minister can call a snap election if two-thirds of lawmakers vote for it.
A spokesperson for Ms May said the Prime Minister spoke to Queen Elizabeth II by phone on Monday, and that an early election would not affect the timetable for Brexit.
Sturgeon says May’s aiming for a ‘hard Brexit’
The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he welcomed Ms May’s decision “to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first”.
“We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain,” he said.
Analysis from London bureau chief Lisa Millar
Brexit is the reason Theresa May has given for calling this early election.
And she will be the “Brexit candidate”.
But she says she has come this to decision “reluctantly” and that it is with “reluctance” that she has made this stunning decision.
She has to say this — Downing Street has been so insistent in its denials that an early election was possible that she will be accused by many of breaking promises and taking voters for granted.
“I’m not going to be calling a snap election,” she said late last year.
But there is little to lose with this backflip which she says is being done in the national interest.
It is not a dangerous gamble for the Prime Minister who only came to the role in July last year.
She currently has a majority of 17 seats but already people are talking about a landslide for Conservatives.
The Labour Party, under the hard left’s Jeremy Corbyn, trails in the opinion polls and there is bound to be internal disputes over whether they should even vote in Parliament tomorrow to allow this election to take place.
In her Easter address, Ms May appealed for unity, fearing Brexit divisions were going to hurt the country.
She is counting on a resounding victory on June 8 to get Brexit done and then get on with her own domestic agenda.
If she wins she will have five clear years to do that.
However Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose party seeks independence from the United Kingdom and opposes leaving the EU, said Ms May was trying to force Britain into a “hard Brexit”.
“The [Conservatives] see a chance to move the UK to the right, force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper [public spending] cuts,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“Let’s stand up for Scotland.”
Ms May took office in July after her predecessor David Cameron stepped down following his failed attempt to get voters to back remaining in the EU.
Since then she has ruled out calling an early election to get her own mandate, but now says she has since “reluctantly” changed her mind.
“It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond,” she said.
Polls gave Ms May’s Conservatives a double-digit lead on Labour, which is divided under left-wing leader Mr Corbyn.
British shares headed for their worst day’s drop since the aftermath of the Brexit referendum last June following Ms May’s announcement.
The FTSE 100 dropped 1.6 percent to its lowest in more than seven weeks as the sterling inched higher, further weighing on the index’s stocks, most of which get earnings in foreign currencies.