MPs clear way for general election on June 8
Britain will go to the polls on June 8, after MPs cleared the way for an early general election.
Theresa May easily cleared the hurdle needed under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to bring the poll forward from the scheduled date of 2020.
With the Prime Minister needing the support of 434 MPs - two thirds of all seats in the House of Commons - some 522 voted for the early election, with just 13 against.
There was never any real doubt about Mrs May securing the backing needed to go to the country, with both Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron saying they welcomed the election - though Scottish National Party MPs abstained in the vote.
But there was deep division over the issues which should decide the election's outcome, with Mrs May casting the poll as an opportunity to secure "strong and stable leadership" for Britain as it forges a new position outside the European Union, while Mr Corbyn said voters should take the chance to make their judgment on the Conservative record on austerity and public service cuts.
Telling MPs it was time to "put our fate in the hands of the people and let the people decide", Mrs May told the House of Commons: "We are determined to bring stability to the United Kingdom for the long term and that's what this election will be about - leadership and stability.
"The decision facing the country will be clear. I will be campaigning for strong and stable leadership in the national interest with me as Prime Minister and I will be asking for the public's support to continue to deliver my plan for a stronger Britain, to lead the country for the next five years and to give the certainty and stability that we need."
A large majority for the Tories would strengthen the Government's hand in negotiating a good Brexit deal and provide "strong and stable leadership in the national interest", she said.
But Mr Corbyn dismissed her argument that she needs a fresh mandate to deliver Brexit, and said it was "extremely interesting" that she had chosen to call an election as the Crown Prosecution Service prepares to decide whether to press charges against a string of Tory MPs over allegations relating to 2015 general election expenses.
He said Mrs May's U-turn on her previous insistence that she would not call a snap election showed she could not be trusted.
And he told MPs: "We welcome the opportunity of a general election because it gives the British people the chance to vote for a Labour government that will put the interests of the majority first.
"The Prime Minister talks about a strong economy, but the truth is most people are worse off then they were when the Conservatives came to power seven years ago. The election gives the British people the chance to change direction.
"This election is about her Government's failure to rebuild the economy and living standards for the majority. It is about the crisis her Government has plunged our National Health Service into, the cuts to our children's schools which will limit the chances of every child in Britain, four million of whom now live in poverty."
Rejecting the PM's claim that an election is needed to prevent disunity at Westminster undermining a Brexit deal, Mr Corbyn said: "There is no obstacle to the Government negotiating, but, instead of getting on with the job, she is painting herself as the prisoner of the Liberal Democrats."
As the debate began, former chancellor George Osborne - who has recently been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard - announced he would not be standing for election on June 8. But he held out the prospect of a return to the political front line, saying he was leaving Westminster politics "for now".
Meanwhile, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg confirmed that he will fight to retain his Sheffield Hallam seat for the Liberal Democrats.