May calls election for Brexit man­date

Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter seeks stronger hand in snap June vote

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JILL LAW­LESS

LON­DON | De­liv­er­ing the lat­est jolt in Britain’s year of po­lit­i­cal shocks, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May called Tues­day for a snap June 8 gen­eral election, seek­ing to strengthen her hand in Euro­pean Union exit talks and tighten her grip on a frac­tious Con­ser­va­tive Party.

With the La­bor op­po­si­tion weak­ened, Ms. May’s gam­ble will prob­a­bly pay off with an en­hanced Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment — but it’s un­likely to unite a coun­try deeply split over the de­ci­sion to quit the EU.

The shock de­ci­sion also means that Western Europe’s three tra­di­tional pow­ers — France, Britain and Ger­many — all will hold elec­tions by the end of the year that could mean a ma­jor re­cal­i­bra­tion in the po­lit­i­cal bal­ance of power in the re­gion.

Ms. May re­turned from an Easter break in the Welsh moun­tains to an­nounce that she would make a tele­vised state­ment on an undis­closed sub­ject early Tues­day out­side 10 Down­ing St. Spec­u­la­tion swirled and the pound plunged against the dol­lar amid un­cer­tainty about whether she planned to re­sign, call an election or even de­clare war.

Since tak­ing of­fice af­ter her pre­de­ces­sor David Cameron re­signed in the wake of Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the EU, Ms. May had re­peat­edly ruled out go­ing to the polls be­fore the next sched­uled election in 2020. But on Tues­day, she said she had “re­luc­tantly” changed her mind be­cause po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions “risk our abil­ity to make a suc­cess of Brexit.”

“We need a gen­eral election, and we need one now,” Ms. May said. “Be­cause we have, at this mo­ment, a one-off chance to get this done, while the Euro­pean Union agrees [on] its ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion and be­fore the de­tailed talks be­gin.”

For decades Bri­tish prime min­is­ters could call elec­tions at will, but that changed with the 2011 Fixed-Term Par­lia­ments Act, which es­tab­lished set polling days ev­ery five years. Now the prime min­is­ter needs the back­ing of two-thirds of law­mak­ers, and Ms. May said she would put her election call to the House of Com­mons on Wed­nes­day.

“Let us to­mor­row vote for an election. Let us put for­ward our plans for Brexit and our al­ter­na­tive pro­grams for gov­ern­ment, and then let the peo­ple de­cide,” Ms. May said.

Jeremy Cor­byn, leader of the main op­po­si­tion La­bor Party, wel­comed Ms. May’s announcement, mak­ing it very likely she will get law­mak­ers’ back­ing for an election. Ms. May’s gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tives cur­rently have a slight ma­jor­ity, with 330 seats in the 650-seat House of Com­mons.

With La­bor de­mor­al­ized and di­vided un­der left­wing leader Mr. Cor­byn and the pro-EU Lib­eral Democrats hold­ing just nine Com­mons seats, Ms. May is bet­ting that the election will bring her an ex­panded crop of Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers.

That would make it eas­ier for her to ig­nore op­po­si­tion calls for a softer EU exit — mak­ing com­pro­mises to re­tain some ben­e­fits of mem­ber­ship — and to face down hard-lin­ers within her own party who want a no-com­pro­mise “hard Brexit” that many econ­o­mists fear could be dev­as­tat­ing.

Tim Bale, pro­fes­sor of politics at Queen Mary Univer­sity of Lon­don, said that even for a cau­tious politi­cian like Ms. May, the temp­ta­tion of an early election was ir­re­sistible.

“She has a small ma­jor­ity, a big task ahead of her and a huge opin­ion poll lead,” he said. “If you put all those things to­gether, they equal a gen­eral election.”

Mr. Bale said a big­ger ma­jor­ity would give Ms. May a new batch of loyal Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers and leave her less at the mercy of eu­roskep­tics in her party “who other­wise could have made negotiations much more dif­fi­cult.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has called for a snap June 8 gen­eral election, in which the Con­ser­va­tive hopes to strengthen her po­si­tion in Euro­pean Union exit talks.

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