Media outlets in the UK were awash with the surprise news, which May announced in front of 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning. BBC One and ITV featured extended bulletins covering the news while BBC Two’s Daily Politics program centered on the announcement. BBC News and Sky News had blanketed coverage hours after May’s statement.
It is a sharp U-turn for May, who has repeatedly told media since she became Prime Minister last year that no general election would be held until 2020, as general elections are held in the UK every five years. Former Prime Minister David Cameron, a fellow Conservative party leader, won 2015’s general election after vowing to give the country an EU referendum with a simple “yes” or “no” vote. Last year, Cameron, a campaigner for the Remain side, resigned a mere day after the UK voted to leave the EU on June 23 and the party elected May as the new leader.
On Tuesday, May explained that she “reluctantly” came to the decision because, as Brexit negotiation proceedings were gearing up, “the country is coming together but Westminster is not.”
EU negotiations won’t really get underway until Autumn, so this is seen as the last chance for May to call an election before formal proceedings begin.
“In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union,” said May in the statement. “The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”
She added: “If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election. Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”
“So, 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 EU agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.”
May needs Parliament’s backing to hold a vote before the scheduled 2020 date, but she’s expected to get it when it’s put to the House of Commons on Wednesday. A YouGov poll published on Sunday put May’s Conservative party ahead on 44%, with Labour on 23%. The Liberal Democrats were at 12% and UKIP, the party formally led by Nigel Farage, one of the main champions for Brexit, at 10%.
Local media outlets were, unsurprisingly, wall to wall with coverage on the shock announcement. Left-leaning paper The Guardian led with a live blog covering the event while right-leaning paper The Daily Telegraph said “Theresa May announces snap general election on June 8 to ‘make a success of Brexit’.” Brit tabloid the Daily Mail said “Britain to go to the polls in just seven weeks as Theresa May stuns Westminster by calling a General Election to provide the ‘strong and stable leadership’ to deliver Brexit.”
The British pound bounced back sharply against the dollar shortly after May’s announcement to $1.26, up around 0.7% on the day.