LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday she would call a snap general election for June 8, arguing that divisions in Westminster over Brexit had made an early vote unavoidable.
“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” May told reporters outside N0.10 Downing Street, adding that she would present the motion to the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Accusing opposition parties of “political game-playing,” she said the country was “coming together” over the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, but that divisions in Parliament “will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit.”
Setting the stage for the campaign messages to come, May said the election would be a choice between her “stable” leadership and a “weak and unstable coalition government led by [Labour’s] Jeremy Corbyn” and “propped up” by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.
“If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue,” she said, calling it a “one-off” opportunity for a vote.
Downing Street has repeatedly insisted in recent weeks that there would be no early election. While there had been fevered speculation in the run-up to the triggering of Article 50 on March 29 that May might call a snap poll, few in Westminster expected Tuesday’s announcement.
She said she had “only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.”
“I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and security is to get your support,” she said.
The Fixed-term Parliament Act introduced in 2011 means calling an early election requires the support of two-thirds of MPs. May said she would bring such a motion to the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first,” he said.
“Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS (National Health Service).
“In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain.”
May is riding high in the polls, with the most recent for YouGov putting the Conservatives on 44 percent and Labour on 23 percent.
If these numbers were reflected in a general election vote, she could expect to significantly increase her working majority of 17 seats in the House of Commons.
In her statement, May said a larger majority would strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. But it would also enable her to push through a domestic reform agenda which otherwise could be blocked by a handful of right-wing MPs in her own party.
May’s political instincts are more statist than many in her party. She has no manifesto of her own to deliver reforms such as an industrial strategy supporting struggling sectors, an increase in the number of selective schools, and tighter rules on big business governance.
An election that delivered a larger majority would make it less likely that a relatively small number of Conservative MPs could derail government policy, as occurred when the Chancellor Philip Hammond was forced to reverse tax increases on the self-employed in last month’s budget, to ward off a backbench revolt.
Responding to the announcement, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the election a chance to avoid “a disastrous hard Brexit,” pledging that his party would strive to keep Britain in the single market. – Politico