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British PM Theresa May calls snap elections

April 18, 2017

The UK's premier has announced plans for a general election in June. She lashed out at opposition parties for challenging her government's view of navigating "Brexit" negotiations.

Großbritannien Premierministerin Theresa May in London
Image: Reuters/T. Melville

Britain's May calls for early election

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday announced her intention to pursue snap elections for June 8 in a bid to shore up support for her vision on the UK's future.

May criticized opposition parties for challenging her government's vision for the UK's departure from the EU, commonly referred to as "Brexit."

"If we do not hold a general election now, their game-playing will continue," she said. "I have now concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty is to hold this election, and seek your support to take this decision."

The British leader said she would seek to formalize the general election process in parliament on Wednesday. Under Britain's legal system, the prime minister must gain the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers in parliament before proceeding with the election.

May inherited the office after former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned in the wake of last year's Brexit referendum. The June election would mark her first attempt to seek a mandate as prime minister.

Infografik Brexit Timeline Englisch

'Brexit' mandate

Steven Fielding, professor political history at the University of Nottingham, told DW that the general election works in her favor as "it will give her much greater authority," especially if Conservatives do well.

Fielding added that by gaining more seats in parliament, it would allow May to conduct the Brexit negotiations with a firm hand, knowing that the legislator backs her.

"She'll be able to secure her own positions without fearing that parliament might reject them, so there will be no danger when negotiations conclude that the decision will be endorsed by parliament," Fielding said.

In March, May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, effectively starting the clock on two years of negotiations to formally leave the EU.

'Disastrous for the people'

In June 2016, British citizens narrowly voted in favor of the UK leaving the 28-nation bloc. In her statement on Tuesday, May vowed to take control of "our own money, our own laws, our own borders."

But she has faced a series of challenges across the country, most notably Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's request for a second independence vote.

"The Tories see a chance to move the UK to the right, force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper cuts. Let's stand up for Scotland," Sturgeon said in a tweet after May's announcement.

Irish republican party Sinn Fein announced it would seek a special status in the EU for Northern Ireland.

"Sinn Fein opposed Brexit because it will be disastrous for the people of Ireland, our economy and our public services," said Michelle O'Neill, who leads the party in Northern Ireland.

"The people of the North clearly voted to see their future in the European Union in the referendum last June," she added, referring to the 56 percent of citizens in Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the bloc.

Alternatives emerge

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn  welcomed May's decision, saying "Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative."

"In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain," Corbyn said.

Liberal Democrats Tim Farron said only his pro-European party could "prevent a Conservative majority."

"If you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the single market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance," Farron said in a statement.

Europe's expectations

Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk said he had a "good phone call" with May following her announcement. Tusk's spokesman later said that the elections "do not change our EU27 plans," referring to the bloc's timetable for preparing Brexit negotiations.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he hopes the elections will lead to more transparency and predictability during the negotiations.

"Any further uncertainty is surely not good for political and economic relations between Europe and the UK," Gabriel said.

ls/jm/sgb (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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