Snap election a surprise about-turn by British Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for an election on June 8, saying Britain's opposition parties risked worsening her negotiating hand in divorce talks with the European Union by opposing her Brexit plan.VIDEO: REUTERS
British Prime Minister Theresa May announcing the snap election outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announcing the snap election outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

May says she has to resort to move because rival parties are putting Brexit deal at risk

Just two years after Britain's last general election and less than a year after the bruising Brexit referendum, Britons are once again going to the polls, after Prime Minister Theresa May sprang a surprise outside 10 Downing Street yesterday by calling a snap election on June 8.

Saying she was doing so reluctantly, Mrs May pointed her finger at rival parties whom she accused of threatening to derail the government's Brexit deal.

"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 said.

"Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country."

The announcement comes less than a month after Mrs May triggered Article 50, setting in motion a two-year countdown for Britain's divorce from the EU.

COUNTERING OPPOSITION

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... Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.

MRS THERESA MAY

It also signals an about-turn for the British Prime Minister, who has repeatedly ruled out an early election, saying the country needed time to stabilise after the shock of the Brexit referendum result in which 52 per cent of the country voted to leave the bloc.

The next general election is not due until May 2020.

Since taking over the reins from former PM David Cameron after his defeat in the EU referendum, Mrs May has been facing multiple challenges from MPs opposed to the government's Brexit plans. Yesterday, she argued that the upcoming election was "a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin".

The pound rose to its highest level in more than two months after Mrs May's surprise statement, trading at $1.77 against the Singapore dollar as confidence grew over the likelihood of a larger majority for Mrs May's Conservative Party in Westminster after the elections, strengthening her hand as she enters formal Brexit negotiations.

The International Monetary Fund also raised its forecast for growth in Britain this year to 2 per cent from its 1.5 per cent estimate in January.

Opposition parties have been quick to take up the gauntlet, including the main opposition Labour Party, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn has been battling turmoil within its ranks and who is widely expected to lead the party towards an electoral disaster.

Mrs May may have also had a change of heart after recent polls showed the Tories leading by 21 percentage points to Mr Corbyn's Labour Party, and an election now could boost the slim working majority of 17 which her party currently has in Parliament. Even though she needs parliamentary approval for the general election, Mrs May already has her required two-thirds majority after Mr Corbyn indicated Labour would support it.

An EU spokesman said the bloc will stick to its Brexit timetable, with European Council president Donald Tusk scheduled to chair a summit of the other 27 EU members in Brussels next week to agree on the negotiating guidelines.

In a tweet yesterday, Mr Tusk likened the unexpected snap election to an Alfred Hitchcock suspense movie. But weary Britons were less enthralled.

"Not again. Not another election," said social media manager Jason Wheeler, 34.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Snap election a surprise about-turn by British Prime Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe