Theresa May has stunned Westminster by demanding a snap general election on 8 June that she hopes will turn her party’s clear lead in the opinion polls into a healthy parliamentary majority and secure her Conservative vision for Brexit.
The prime minister made an unscheduled statement on Tuesday morning from behind a lectern outside 10 Downing Street, in which she recanted her repeated promise not to go to the polls before 2020.
She accused opposition parties of trying to jeopardise her government’s preparations for exiting the EU as she called for what would be a third nationwide poll in three years – while the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, responded by saying he would welcome the opportunity to fight an election opposing Tory austerity.
May said: “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.”
Supporters of the prime minister said she would use the election to crush dissent over Brexit, with one projection by the election expert Michael Thrasher suggesting she could secure a majority of 140 on the basis of current polls. His estimate suggests the number of Tory MPs could rise from 331 to 395, with Labour potentially slumping from 229 to 164.
The election caused nerves among Labour MPs, with some bemoaning the possible loss of colleagues and two of the party’s politicians, Tom Blenkinsop and Alan Johnson, saying they would not contest their seats. Tony Blair has called on voters to consider maintaining politicians of any party determined to maintain an open mind on Brexit. “The damage to the country will be huge if we end up with an unrestrained ‘Brexit at any cost’ majority,” he wrote, claiming May was trying to take advantage of Labour’s difficulties.
“The state of the Labour leadership offers such an obvious target that it would be an extraordinary act of political self-denial to refuse to put the opposition to the test,” said Blair, arguing that the prime minister also wanted a mandate for Brexit before the talks ran into inevitable difficulties.
Conservatives were largely supportive of the decision with Steve Baker, a key backbencher who chairs the European research group, claiming that Labour and the Lib Dems were trying to scupper Brexit.
More information at: www.theguardian.com
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