Theresa May calls snap general election to create 'stability and strong leadership' ahead of Brexit
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election - in a move aimed at shoring up her support ahead of Brexit negotiations.
The leader of the Conservative Party - who took over from David Cameron in the wake of the Brexit referendum result last June - made the shock announcement in a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street at 11.15am.
It will be held on 8 June.
She said political opponents "are wrong to think we will change course on Brexit".
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "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."
Former Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Mrs May's "brave - and right" decision to call a snap election, adding: "My very best wishes to all Conservative candidates."
Sterling rose against the dollar after Mrs May made the surprise announcement outside her Downing Street office.
"I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8," the British Prime Minister said.
"I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.
"Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.
"Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.
"We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result.
"Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back. And as we look to the future, the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.
"We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world.
"That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world.
"This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it.
"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.
"In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union.
"The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standsill.
"The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union.
"And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.
"Our opponents believe that because the Government's majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.
"They are wrong.
"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."
May's Conservatives, who were split on the issue of European Union membership ahead of last year's referendum, are currently far ahead of Labour, the main opposition party, according to opinion polls.
May said this was a one-off chance to get an election done while the EU was agreeing on its negotiating position.
She said the government had the right plan to negotiate Brexit, and there would be no change of course.
Downing Street had always previously denied she would call a vote before the next scheduled poll in 2020.
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act sets the general election date as the first Thursday in May every five years, meaning 2020 was the next expected contest.
But Mrs May is free to call an early election if two-thirds of MPs in the Commons vote for it and Jeremy Corbyn has previously indicated Labour would support such a move.
In March Downing Street strenuously denied Mrs May would call a vote before 2020.
But with a Commons working majority of just 17, and a healthy opinion poll lead over Labour, senior Tories had suggested Mrs May should go to the country in order to strengthen her Parliamentary position.
A good result - which is widely-predicted in the face of weak opposition report - will also give a mandate both for her leadership and her negotiating position on Brexit before talks with the European Union start in earnest.
"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," the Prime Minister told the Opposition.
"Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government and then let the people decide.
"And the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your Prime Minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats - who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum - and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
"Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.
"Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.
"Every vote for the Conservatives means we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.
"It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.
"So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands."
More to follow