In a surprise statement outside Downing Street on Tuesday morning, the prime minister claimed that opposition parties were jeopardising her government’s preparations for Brexit.
“We need a general election and we need one now,” she said. “I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion but now I have concluded it is the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead.”
May claimed the decision she would put to voters in the election, the announcement of which was a tightly guarded secret known only by her closest aides, would be all about “leadership”.
The prime minister may have been swayed by recent polls that placed the Conservatives 21 points ahead of Labour despite a policy blitz by Jeremy Corbyn’s party. She will hope to boost a slim working majority of 17 in order to help pass both domestic and Brexit-linked legislation.
In her statement, May said her government was trying to deliver on last year’s referendum result by making sure Britain regained control and struck new trade deals.
“After the country voted to leave the EU, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership. Since I became prime minister the government has delivered precisely that,” she said, but claimed that other political parties had opposed her efforts.
“The country is coming together but Westminster is not. Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach. The Lib Dems have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”
The prime minister later repeated her suggestion that she was taking the decision reluctantly, arguing that she had decided to go for the election last week. “Before Easter I spent a few days walking in Wales with my husband, I thought about this long and hard and came to the decision that to provide for that stability and certainty, this was the way to do it,” she told ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston.
She added that she was asking the British people to put their trust in her. Pressed on the notion that it was more about personal and party interest than for the sake of the country, she disagreed. “This is a decision that I’ve taken reluctantly in the national interest,” said May, arguing that a decisive election victory would strengthen the government’s hand in Brexit negotiations.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, May cannot call an election directly, but she said she would lay down a motion in the House of Commons. This will require two-thirds of MPs to back it. The Commons vote will follow a 90-minute debate on Wednesday, after Prime Minister’s Questions and any urgent questions or ministerial statements, May’s official spokesman said.