May surprises EU with snap election
By Eric Maurice
UK voters will elect a new House of Commons on 8 June after Theresa May announced a snap election on Tuesday (18 April), which she hopes will give her a pro-Brexit majority, in order to "remove the risk of uncertainty and instability" ahead of EU exit talks.
"We need a general election and we need one now," May said in a statement outside her Downing Street office. She said that there was "a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin."
Dear EUobserver reader
Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.
Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.
- Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
- All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
- EUobserver archives
EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.
♡ We value your support.
If you already have an account click here to login.
EU leaders will adopt the bloc's negotiating guidelines on 29 April and the the European Commission will adopt its recommendations on 3 May.
May's call for an election, which was announced just as the commission's daily press briefing started, seems to have taken the EU by surprise.
"The EU is a union of democracies," commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said, refusing to comment on the announcement. "We are in favour of elections, in general."
"It was unexpected," an EU source said, adding that it was too early to say how the campaign would affect the start of Brexit talks.
The negotiating mandate is due to be approved on 22 May by the 27 Europe ministers, two weeks before the 8 June election.
European Council president Donald Tusk said on Twitter that he had a "good phone call" with the British PM after the announcement.
His spokesman said that "the UK elections do not change our EU27 plans".
In the meantime, the EU source said, "talks about talks" are planned between EU and British officials. Michel Barnier recently told EUobserver that he would meet the Brexit minister but no date has been set yet.
On his personal Twitter account, Tusk said less diplomatically that Brexit was like a Hitchcock movie, with rising tension.
May, who was appointed prime minister without an election last July following David Cameron's resignation in the wake of the Brexit referendum, said she took the decision "only recently and reluctantly" and placed blame on the parliament and opposition.
"The country is coming together, but Westminster is not," she said, referring to the parliament.
"Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country," she added.
Pointing her fingers at the other parties in the House, May said the Labour Party "has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union"; at the Liberal Democrats, who "have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill"; at the Scottish National Party, which said it "will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union"; and at the "unelected members of the House of Lords [who] have vowed to fight us every step of the way".
She said that her opponents were "jeopardising" the government's work and "weakening" its negotiating position in Europe.
"I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country," she insisted, adding that "division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country".
In contrast, she said "every vote for the Conservatives means we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future".
May's decision to call a general election, two years after the last one, will have to be approved by the House of Commons with a two-third majority. The vote is expected on Wednesday.
Recent opinion polls put her Conservative Party well ahead of the two main opposition parties, the Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he welcomed the decision "to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first".
But whereas May explained the election by the need to prepare for Brexit, the opposition leader, whose position on Brexit has never been clear, didn't mention the issue and focused on economic and social issues.
The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Fallon said that the election would be "an opportunity to have a decent and strong opposition".
"Only through the Liberal Democrats is there any pathway for the Conservatives losing their majority," he said.
Paul Nuttal, the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (Ukip), said that May's decision to call an election was "cynical".
But he added that it provided a "perfect opportunity" for the 52 percent who voted for Brexit last June" to vote for Ukip, "the only party wholeheartedly committed to a clean, quick and efficient Brexit".
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said that the election would be "about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity-obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland".
Referring to the process for an independence referendum that her government launched in March, she said that the vote would be about "reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future".