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British PM calls for early general election on June 8

Last updated on: April 18, 2017 19:23 IST

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday called for snap elections on June 8 in a surprise move that stunned her allies as well as opponents, asserting that it is the only way to guarantee political stability in the country for years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Prime Minister May, who had repeatedly denied that she would call an election before the next scheduled poll in 2020, indicated that the early general election will help unite the political corridors of the country.

There will be a House of Commons vote on the proposed election tomorrow and May will need Parliament's backing to hold a vote before 2020.

Explaining her change of heart on an early election, May said: “I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.”

Speaking outside her Downing Street residence in London, May, 60, accused Britain's other political parties of ‘game playing’, saying this risks ‘our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country’.

She said at this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not, she added.

“Our opponents believe because the government’s majority is so small, that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong.

“If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election,” she added.

“So we need a general election and we need one now. We have at this moment a one off chance to get this done.

“I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion. Since I became prime minister I’ve said there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and security for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions we must take,” she added.

May had phoned the Queen on Monday to inform her of her intention.

Her decision came after a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street wherein she decided to go for early polls this year to win a stronger mandate for her Brexit negotiations.

The dramatic move comes against the backdrop of the country’s decision to leave the European Union in the last year’s referendum.

Britain’s next election was due to have been held in 2020, according to a legislation, but the law can be overruled if two-thirds of lawmakers in the British parliament vote in favour of early elections.

The House of Commons is expected to dissolve on May 3 and a vote on Wednesday requires 434 out of 650 MPs to vote for the early election for it to go ahead.

May threw a challenge to the Opposition to back her motion to be tabled on Wednesday.

“I have a simple challenge to the Opposition parties, you have criticised the government's vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament. This is your moment to show you mean it, to show you are not opposing the government for the sake of it, to show that you do not treat politics as a game,” she said.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, welcomed May’s decision to hold the snap election.

“Labour will stand up for the people of Britain. 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,” he said.

Other parties also backed the move, with the Liberal Democrats saying it would help take the UK away from a hard Brexit and into a different direction.

“If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the Single Market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority,” Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said.

The Scottish National Party, which has demanded a second independence referendum from the United Kingdom to have a stronger voice in the Brexit negotiations, described May’s announcement as an ‘extraordinary U-turn’.

“So now is the time for Scotland's voice to be heard, and for people in Scotland to stand up for the kind of country we want Scotland to be -- that is the campaign I look forward to leading in the weeks ahead,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

It is believed May was influenced by recent opinion polls that placed her ruling Conservative party 21 points ahead of Labour. With the snap poll, she will hope to boost her slim working majority of 17 and also a chance to present her own manifesto for the next government, rather than one based on her predecessor -- David Cameron.

She has a strong majority in her Maidenhead constituency in south-east England and the election results in June will reflect the public's view of her leadership of Britain.

Aditi Khanna and H S Rao
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