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UK PM May calls for snap vote to strengthen hand ahead of Brexit divorce talks

© Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP | Britain's Conservative PM announces plans for a snap election outside 10 Downing Street on April 18, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-04-18

British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for an early election on June 8, saying she needed to strengthen her hand in divorce talks with the European Union by bolstering support for her Brexit plan.

"I have just chaired a meeting of the cabinet where we agreed that the government should call a General Election to be held on the 8th of June," May said outside her Downing Street office.

Since becoming prime minister last July in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the EU, May had consistently said she would not seek an early election saying that she does not want to be distracted by campaigning - but opinion polls give her a strong lead and the British economy has so far defied predictions of a slowdown.

Furthermore, May said after thinking "long and hard" during a walking holiday, she decided it was necessary to call for a general election to stop the opposition "jeopardising" her work on Brexit.

'This is the right moment to go for it'

The Conservative leader said that the "only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election".

May has accused her opponents of "political game-playing" and undermining the country in the upcoming talks to exit the European Union.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, the next general election date was to be in 2020. But an early election can take place if two-thirds of lawmakers in the House of Commons vote for it.

'It will give her breathing space'

The opposition Labour Party, which trails May's Conservative Party in opinion polls, has said it supports such a move.

"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," Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in an emailed statement.

Other members of his party were less enthusiastic, and the decision to call a snap election drew criticism from other opposition parties.

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of the Scottish government, described it as a "huge political miscalculation" that could help her efforts to hold a new independence referendum.

A survey conducted after May's announcement put her Conservative Party 21 points ahead of the main opposition Labour Party. The ICM/Guardian poll of 1,000 people put Conservative support at 46 percent, with Labour on 25 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 11 percent.

May far ahead in the polls

May's personal ratings also dwarf those of Labour leader Corbyn, with 50 percent of those asked by pollster YouGov saying she would make the best prime minister. Corbyn wins only 14 percent.

A spokesman for the prime minister said she had the backing of her top team of ministers and had informed Queen Elizabeth of her plans.

If the opinion polls are right, she will win a new mandate for a series of reforms she wants to introduce in Britain and also a vote of confidence in a vision for Brexit which sees the country outside the EU's single market.

"The decision facing the country will be all about leadership," May said.

"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 division of the referendum."

Looking at social media, many Britons are questioning whether they wanted to cast yet another ballot less than a year after the June referendum and two years after they voted in the last parliamentary poll.

However, the ICM/Guardian poll found that around three in five respondents said May was right to call an election.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-04-18

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