British Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday that she would ask for a snap election to be held June 8 – less than a year after voters decided to take the U.K. out of the European Union.
Parliament is expected to vote on the proposed election Wednesday. Although many lawmakers were surprised by May’s decision, they are likely to grant the two-thirds majority approval necessary for an early election, suspending the law that had set the next general election for 2020.
Both Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, and Tim Farron, who heads the Liberal Democrats, said they welcomed the prime minister’s decision.
May had previously rejected suggestions of a snap election after becoming prime minister less than a year ago, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016. But she said she now felt a general election was needed to bring greater unity to the government as divorce negotiations between Britain and the E.U. begin in earnest. The government gave formal notice of the U.K.’s intention to leave the E.U. on March 29.
“I have only recently and reluctantly come to this decision” to seek a general election, May said in her shock announcement, delivered in a news conference outside 10 Downing St. on Tuesday morning.
She poured cold water on hopes by Brexit opponents that a general election could result in a reversal of the decision to withdraw from the E.U. “Britain is leaving the European Union,” she declared, “and there can be no turning back.”
May said her administration had already given Britain the “certainty, stability and strong leadership” the country needed after the referendum. She said that despite predictions of immediate financial and economic doom, Britain had seen “consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.”
But the Brexit negotiations have opened up divisions within Parliament, including her own Conservative Party, over what kind of settlement Britain should make with the E.U. May said an election would help end that. “If we don’t hold a general election now, the political game-playing will continue and cause damaging uncertainty and instability in the country,” she said.
The pound dropped sharply ahead of May’s statement, but recovered soon afterward.