UK Prime Minister Theresa May called for an early election on June 8, seeking a personal mandate and parliamentary backing to take her through Brexit talks. The pound surged.
The Conservatives have a 21-point lead, according to a recent poll and May — who became prime minister without an election — is betting she can extend the slim parliamentary majority her predecessor won in 2015. May said the existing schedule for an election in 2020, just after the deadline for an exit deal with the European Union, posed a threat to a successful Brexit.
The pound surged to its highest since Feb. 2 on the expectation that May will be able to extend her majority and silence critics on both wings of her party. An election victory may also make it easier for the government to make concessions in EU talks, and could reduce the risk of the U.K. leaving without a deal, according to Eurasia Group.
The decision was a reversal on her previous stance, and she said she’d made it “relunctantly.” She told ITV in an interview that she made her decision during a walking holiday with her husband in Wales before Easter. A parliamentary vote on the matter will be held Wednesday afternoon.
It’s not without risks. The election could embolden those who regret voting for Brexit in last year’s referendum and will probably increase support for independence in Scotland, coming weeks after May rejected Scotland’s call for a second independence referendum. Still, the Labour Party is riven by internal conflicts, the pro-European Liberal Democrats have just nine seats and no clear anti-Brexit figurehead has emerged since last year’s vote.
“There should be unity here in Westminster but instead there is division,” she said in a statement outside her Downing Street residence on Tuesday. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”
May argued that delays in beginning negotiations with the EU gave her a unique window to secure her own mandate, and said threats by opposition parties to try to undermine her Brexit stance made this necessary.
Her current polling lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party means she can be fairly confident of increasing her majority, and bringing Tory lawmakers into Parliament who will back her on the flavor of Brexit that she prefers. Moreover, a survey last week by Orb International showed that 55 percent of Britons support her handling of Brexit talks. Her campaign will be run by Lynton Crosby, who ran the Conservatives’ unexpectedly successful campaign in 2015, according to a person familiar with the plans.
“This is Theresa May’s attempt to free herself from some of the constraints she’s under and get the mandate to execute the hard Brexit she’s been talking about,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the Eurasia Group. “She sees an opportunity to win the election, secure a bigger mandate and execute the hard Brexit.”
A poll on Monday gave the Conservatives a 21-point lead over Labour for the first time in nine years, according to the Times newspaper. May’s party would win 44 percent of the vote, compared with 23 percent for Labour and 12 percent for the Liberal Democrats, the Times said, citing a poll by YouGov.
Unlike almost all her predecessors, May cannot simply ask the Queen to dissolve parliament and call an election. A 2011 law passed by Cameron during his coalition government with the Liberal Democrats means there are two circumstances in which there could be an early election: If two-thirds of the House of Commons votes for one or if the government loses a no-confidence vote and a new administration fails to win a confidence motion within 14 days.