Theresa May calls snap general election to be held on June 8

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in Downing Street, announcing a snap general election

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in Downing Street, announcing a snap general election on June 8. Picture John Stillwell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Theresa May has called a snap election for June 8 following a surprise announcement outside Downing Street.

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The Prime Minister will require the support of two-thirds of MPs to go to the country, with a vote scheduled in the Commons on Wednesday.

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 said: '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.

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'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.

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'This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it.

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'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.'

She acknowledged that 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.

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'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.'

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.

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Senior Tories have urged Mrs May to call an early election, taking advantage of the Conservatives' healthy opinion poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn's Labour.

Mrs May suggested she reached her decision over the Easter parliamentary recess - during which she went on a walking holiday in North Wales.

'I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion,' the PM said.

'Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020.

'But now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.'

Previously Downing Street had always denied she would call a vote before the next scheduled poll in 2020, despite pressure for senior Conservative figures, such as William Hague who believed it 'would strengthen the government's hand at home and abroad'.

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The last time a Prime Minister willingly called a snap election was in 1974 when Harold Wilson called one just months after Labour's victory. Labour subsequently held onto power.

There was a snap election in 1979 but that one was caused by a vote of no confidence in James Callaghan's Labour government.

Theresa May's speech in full:

'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.

'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.

'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.

'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.

'So we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.

'I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.

'Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.

'And so tomorrow I will move a motion in the House of Commons calling for a general election to be held on the eighth of June.

'That motion, as set out by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, will require a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons.

'So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government's vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament.

'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.

'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.'

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