May calls general election as she seeks mandate for Brexit negotiations
Theresa May has called a snap general election on June 8, with a plea to British voters to put their trust in her to deliver a good result from Brexit.
Making her shock announcement, the Prime Minister claimed divisions at Westminster risked jeopardising the negotiations to pull the UK out of the European Union.
Having repeatedly ruled out calling a snap election in the past, Mrs May said she had "reluctantly" taken the decision to go to the country after seeing other parties "playing games" with the process of preparing for Brexit negotiations.
Her final decision was taken during a walking holiday in Snowdonia with husband Philip, and she told the Queen on Easter Monday before getting the full approval of Cabinet on Tuesday morning.
Speaking to ITV News, Mrs May said: "Before Easter, I spent a few days walking in Wales with my husband, thought about this long and hard and came to the decision that to provide that stability and certainty for the future, this was the way to do it - to have an election.”
"I trust the British people. The British people gave the Government a job to do in terms of coming out of the European Union and I'm going to be asking the British people to put their trust in me in ensuring we deliver a success of that."
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act introduced by her predecessor David Cameron, the Prime Minister will require the support of two-thirds of MPs to go to the country, with a vote scheduled in the Commons today.
The move stunned Westminster, as Mrs May and Number 10 have repeatedly insisted she would not seek a general election before the scheduled 2020 poll.
But Mrs May, who has a fragile working majority of just 17 in the Commons, said she wanted "unity" at Westminster as talks on Brexit begin in earnest with the European Union.
She rejected suggestions she was simply seeking to take advantage of an opportunity to extend her lead at a time when polls put Conservatives as many as 21 points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour, insisting an election now was "in the best long-term interests of this country".
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mrs May acknowledged she needed a stronger position in the Commons to secure her plans for the UK's future outside the EU.
"Our opponents believe because the Government's majority is so small that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change. They are wrong," she said.
"They under-estimate 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, because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government's negotiating position in Europe."
Mrs May added: "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."
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, general elections take place every five years, meaning Mrs May would have had to carry on until 2020 before the chance to strengthen her position.
In order to call the early election, she will need the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs in the Commons but Labour is expected to support her, as any opposition would look weak if it did not agree to the chance to take office.
Mr Corbyn said Mrs May's decision had given voters the chance "to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first".
"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," said the Labour leader.
"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."
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the election provided an opportunity to block "a disastrous hard Brexit".
"This election is your chance to change the direction of our country," he said in a message to voters.
"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."
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the election call as "a huge political miscalculation by the Prime Minister", accusing Mrs May of "once again putting the interests of her party ahead of those of the country".
" It will once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories' narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future," said the SNP leader.
Mrs May said her decision came in response to efforts by other parties to disrupt the Article 50 process of triggering Brexit negotiations and suggestions they might seek to block any deal which she eventually achieves.
"Politics is not a game, and the problem is that at the moment we have other parties who are playing games with politics," she told ITV News.
"I want to ensure that we can get on with the job of delivering on Brexit, making Brexit a success.
"I think the games being played by other parties jeopardise our ability to prepare for Brexit here at home and they weaken our negotiating hand in Europe."
The Commons vote on whether the general election can go ahead will follow a 90 minute debate today, after Prime Minister's Questions and any urgent questions or ministerial statements, Mrs May's official spokesman said.