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British PM calls for snap general election on June 8

May says polls needed ahead of Brexit negotiations with EU

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday called for a general election on June 8, in a surprise announcement as Britain prepares for delicate negotiations on leaving the European Union.

"We need a general election and we need one now. We have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done... before the detailed talks begin," said Mrs May, in a policy U-turn that caught everyone off-guard.

Speaking outside her Downing Street residence in London, Mrs May warned that "division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit".

She said parliament would be asked to vote today to decide on whether or not to hold an election.

Mrs May justified her change of heart, saying: "I concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election."

The dramatic announcement caps nearly a year of tumult in British politics following the Brexit vote in June 2016 that included the resignation of Mrs May's predecessor David Cameron and her rapid rise to power last year.

A round of opinion polls over the Easter weekend also showed her Conservative Party far ahead of the main opposition Labour Party.

The Conservatives polled at between 38 per cent and 46 per cent, with Labour at 23 per cent to 29 per cent, according to the polls by YouGov, ComRes and Opinium.

The poll lead had prompted many senior Conservatives to call for an election, particularly as Mrs May will need a strong parliamentary majority as she seeks to negotiate Brexit.

The Conservatives currently have a majority of just 17 from the last election in 2015 and some of their MPs have indicated they could vote against the government on key aspects of Brexit legislation.

'THEY ARE WRONG'

"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," Mrs May said yesterday.

EU leaders except Mrs May are set to hold a summit on April 29, where they will agree on the strategy for negotiating Britain's expected departure in 2019.

The negotiations themselves are not expected to start until May or June at the earliest.

The European Commission has said it wants the exit talks to be concluded by October 2018 at the latest and stressed in an initial reaction to Mrs May's shock announcement that the plans were unchanged. - AFP

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