LONDON, (Reuters) – 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 shoring up support for her Brexit plan.
Standing outside her Downing Street office, May said she had been reluctant about asking parliament to back her move to bring forward the election from 2020, but decided it was necessary to win support for her ruling Conservative Party’s efforts to press ahead with Britain’s departure from the EU.
Some were surprised by her move – she has repeatedly said she does not want to be distracted by time-consuming campaigning – but opinion polls give her a strong lead and she has faced opposition from her own party for her some of domestic reforms.
The pound strengthened by almost half a cent against the dollar and 10-year British government bond yields rose slightly after the announcement.
“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,” she said.
“Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.”
May is capitalising on her runaway lead in the opinion polls. The Conservative Party is around 20 points ahead of the main opposition Labour Party, a large lead for an incumbent party two years after the last parliamentary election.
The prime minister’s own personal ratings also dwarf those of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, with 50 percent of those asked saying she would make the best prime minister. Corbyn wins only 14 percent, according to pollster YouGov.
But before holding the election, May must first win the support of two-thirds of the parliament in a vote on Wednesday. Labour said it will vote in favour of a new election, meaning she should be able to get it through.
“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.”
May will hope the election will boost her slim majority in parliament and give her a new mandate to put her stamp on domestic reforms in education and health and strengthen her hand in talks with the EU, which will start in earnest in June.