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UK parliament votes 522 to 13 to back June 8 general election

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has won the vote in parliament to back her call for an early general election. She said the result will help unify parliament behind her Brexit plan and prevent instability.

The vote was passed by 522 to 13. The lower chamber had to reach a two-thirds majority - or 434 votes in the 650-seat lower chamber of parliament - to pass the vote. Under existing legislation, British elections have a five-year fixed term and the 2020 date could only be changed with a two-thirds majority.

Of the 522 MPs who voted in favor, 325 (out of 330) were Conservative, 174 (of 229) were Labour, 8 (of 9) were Lib Dems, 3 Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists), 1 from the Greens and from 8 Democratic Unionists (DUP) and 3 from fellow Northern Irish party the UUP (Ulster Unionists). Many Labour MPs chose to abstain.

Parliament will now hold its last session on May 2 and the campaign will begin on May 3, with the election taking place on June 8.

May said the vote would strengthen her hand against domestic critics seeking to "frustrate the process" of leaving the EU, which formally began last month.

"I will be asking the British people for a mandate to complete Brexit and to make a success of it," May said, to cheers from Conservative MPs sitting behind her.

May stunned the country on Tuesday when she announced plans to call the snap election, having repeatedly said she would wait until the next vote scheduled in 2020.

May is seeking to increase her majority of 17 in the lower house before the battles begin with the EU over Britain's exit bill and future trade and immigration ties.

"I believe that at this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster not division," May told parliament in the pre-vote debate. "That's why it is the right and responsible thing for all of us here today to vote for a general election."

"What do we know that the leader of the Labour Party, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the leader of the Scottish nationalists have in common?" May asked parliament. "They want to unite together to divide our country and we will not let them do it."

Opposition heading for electoral oblivion?

Three weekend opinion polls put the Conservatives about 20 points ahead of Labour.

Labour's stance on Brexit has been to allow the government to go ahead with the EU divorce, but only under certain conditions, such as retaining strong economic ties with the bloc.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said at Prime Minister's questions - parliament's weekly chance to grill the PM -  that this was a government of "broken promises" on health, education and the economy during its seven years in office. He did not explicitly address the issue of Europe, but did repeatedly challenge May to face her rivals in a televised debate.

Watch video 01:17

Corbyn: Theresa May cannot be trusted

Tim Farron, the leader of the third largest party, the Lib Dems, said May was calling an election now because, "having looked at the state of Labour, she could not resist the political equivalent of taking candy from a baby."

Asked if he would rule out a coalition with the Conservatives, Farron refuses to answer directly. He said he did not expect the election to result in a "balanced parliament."

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which holds most of the seats in Scotland, is pushing its demands for a second referendum on independence in order to maintain close ties with the EU.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's leader at Westminster, said there were two reasons why May is holding an election. First, he said May wanted to eliminate opposition at Westminster and, second, it had finally dawned on her how difficult it would be to get a Brexit deal.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said later on Wednesday that success for the SNP on June 8 would make it impossible for May to stop a new referendum on Scottish independence.

"If the SNP wins this election in Scotland and the Tories (Conservatives) don't, then Theresa May's attempt to block our mandate to give the people of Scotland a choice over their own future when the time is right will crumble to dust," Sturgeon told reporters in London. 

The Scottish parliament backed Sturgeon's bid in March to hold a new referendum in 2018 or 2019, but May rejected the proposal.

Watch video 03:09

UK parliament to vote on snap election

jbh/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

 

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