British prime minister Theresa May wants to hold a snap election on June 8 – despite having promised the public, ever since she took over after the Brexit vote less than a year ago, that she would serve out the government’s full five-year term.
In a surprise statement outside 10 Downing St today, May claimed opposition parties were jeopardising her government’s preparations for Brexit.
“We need a general election and we need one now,” she said. “I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion but now I have concluded it is the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead.”
The prime minister has almost certainly been swayed by recent polls that placed her Conservative Party 21 points ahead of the unpopular Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
She will hope to boost a slim working majority of 17 in the 650-member House of Commons to help pass both domestic and Brexit-linked legislation.
May said her government was trying to deliver on last year’s referendum result by making sure Britain regained control and struck new trade deals.
“After the country voted to leave the EU, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership. Since I became prime minister the government has delivered precisely that,” she said, but claimed that other political parties had opposed her efforts.
“The country is coming together but Westminster [parliament] is not. Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach. The Lib Dems have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”
May claimed she was taking the decision reluctantly, arguing she had decided to go for the election last week.
Pressed on the belief that it was more about personal and party interest than the good of the country, she disagreed. “This is a decision that I’ve taken reluctantly in the national interest,” said May, arguing a decisive election victory would strengthen the government’s hand in Brexit negotiations.
She has also refused to take part in any TV debates. Commentators suggest that’s because she’s not warm and doesn’t perform well in off-the-cuff events; they also suggest it’s a risk because it allows her opponents to take pot-shots at an “empty chair”.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, May cannot call an election directly. She must put a motion to the House of Commons tomorrow. Two-thirds of MPs must vote in favour.
Corbyn said he welcomed the decision, suggesting his MPs would back the motion. Several of his MPs disagree and have suggested they could vote against.
The Conservatives have 330 MPs, Labour has 229, the Scottish Nationalists 54 and the Liberal Democrats 8. Minor parties and independents hold the remaining seats, meaning May has to win the support of 100 opposition MPs to have the vote passed.
The Lib Dems hope to turn the election into a second referendum on the type of Brexit being pursued by the government.
Labour is split on the style of Brexit it favours – many of its MPs campaigned against it – so it faces a dilemma.