British Prime Minister Theresa May called for an early general election to be held on June 8, in a surprise announcement on Tuesday as Britain prepares for delicate negotiations on leaving the European Union.
May said she will go to parliament on Wednesday to seek approval for the snap vote.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We need a general election and we need one now. We have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done … before the detailed talks begin,” said May, speaking in front of 10 Downing Street.
WHAT DO THE POLLSTERS SAY?
Conservatives: 46 percent
Labour: 25 percent
Liberal Democrats: 12 percent
ICM/Guardian poll of 1,000 people – April 18, after May’s announcement
Conservatives: 44 percent
Labour: 23 percent
Liberal Democrats: 12 percent
UK Independence Party: 10 percent
Who would make better PM?
Theresa May: 50 percent
Jeremy Corbyn: 14 percent
Don’t know: 36 percent
YouGov/Times poll – April 12-13, 2017
“I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election,” she said.
May became prime minister without winning an election in July last year following the resignation of David Cameron after millions of Britons went against his advice and voted to leave the EU. May had also backed the Remain camp in the June 23 referendum, but kept a low profile throughout a polarising campaign.
She had previously said there would be no early election under her leadership.
Al Jazeera’s Duncan Golestani, reporting from London, said: “May has rolled the dice, she is taking her gamble. She wants to increase her majority and her mandate to lead the country through Brexit.”
Under Britain’s fixed-term parliament act, which sets the date for the next election for 2020, May must win the approval of two-thirds of parliament before proceeding with an earlier election.
“She doesn’t have that majority within her own parliamentarians, so she’ll have to challenge the opposition members to say ‘you vote for this or you’re not supporting us and you’re not supporting Brexit’,” said Golestani.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he backed May’s call for an early vote.
I welcome the PM’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first pic.twitter.com/9P3X6A2Zpw
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 18, 2017
In a statement posted to social media, Corbyn 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 the NHS.”
May accused her opponents of divisive “political game-playing” and undermining the UK in its Brexit talks, and said that “division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit”.
Eight months after Britons voted to quit the bloc, the UK triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March – officially beginning the two-year process of negotiations with the EU to withdraw from it.
“It’s very interesting the way she has framed the politics of this. She has pointed the blame at the opposition parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well as the Scottish National Party,” said Golestani.
“She has said repeatedly over the past six months that she would not call an election, that she didn’t think it was in the country’s interest, that stability was needed. She has gone back on that.”
A risk worth taking?
Scotland’s devolved administration is particularly concerned about leaving Europe’s single market – the price May says must be paid to end perceived challenges such as mass immigration, a concern for some voters.
In March, Scotland’s semi-autonomous parliament backed a call by its nationalist government for a new referendum on Scottish independence from Britain before Brexit. May rebuffed the referendum request.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, said May’s decision was a “huge political miscalculation” that will give Scottish voters an opportunity to “reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda” while “reinforcing the
democratic mandate for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future.”
In Northern Ireland, Irish republican party Sinn Fein took a similar line, saying it will oppose Brexit and push for a special status for Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Golestani said May’s decision to call for an early election was a gamble that is out of character for the prime minister, who is generally seen as sober and conservative.
Dennis Novy, an associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick, told Al Jazeera that the “biggest prize” of an early election for May could potentially come from her own party.
“She has a lot of MPs in her own party that are hardcore ‘Brexiteers’ and that have threatened to block some of the softer versions of Brexit that inevitably will come out of the negotiations with Brussels,” said Novy.
“And if she gets a bigger majority in parliament she will be less dependent on the hardcore elements in her own party, and she will have more freedom.”