LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for an early parliamentary election on June 8. Here are the steps needed before the vote happens and possible political consequences.
The mechanism for the government to seek an early election is more complicated than it used to be. Governments used to be able to call them when they saw fit, but the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011, set a timetable for elections to take place every five years.
Under the legislation, a motion for an election ahead of schedule must be backed by two thirds of the 650 seat lower House of Commons, including vacant seats. This means that the government needs 434 votes to call the election.
May said that she would introduce a motion to parliament on Wednesday. If it is passed, parliament will be dissolved 25 working days before the date of the general election. Accounting for public holidays, this means May 3 if the election is held on June 8.
May’s Conservatives hold 330 seats in the chamber and the opposition Labour party 229. Labour has said that it will vote for the early election, so the combined 559 votes would be enough to pass the motion if all lawmakers of both parties follow the party line.
May’s decision to seek a snap election is a U-turn, as she had repeatedly ruled this out. She has said previously that the country needs stability rather than a new election following Britons’ referendum vote in June last year to leave the European Union. However, on Tuesday she implied that division in Westminster was undermining that stability already.
“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division,” May said as she announced the election.
She also cited economic strength as a sign of her government’s success. “Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations,” she said.
Economists said that the British economy’s relative strength at the moment makes this a good time for May to have an election, before early signs of a downturn become more obvious.
May, who has only a slim working parliamentary majority of 17, could also have been influenced by opinion polls.
A survey by ICM on Tuesday gave the Conservatives an 18 percentage point lead over Labour, and other polls over the last week have put it at over 20 percentage points.
Labour has been riven with internal division over the Brexit vote and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who many of its lawmakers believe will struggle to win an election.
A bad result for Labour might lead to Corbyn’s resignation, pundits said. “As well as giving Theresa May the majority she needs to govern effectively, this election looks set to deliver Labour backbenchers the result they want too – the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership,” Andrew Hawkins, chairman of polling firm ComRes, said.
Betting odds indicated May’s Conservatives had an 80 percent chance of winning a majority while Labour had just a 2 percent chance. The Liberal Democrats, who opposed Brexit, currently hold just nine seats but are expected to benefit by winning support from some of the 48 percent of voters who backed remaining in the EU in the referendum, bookmakers say.
May has made clear that the election will not affect the timetable for leaving the EU. If she wins on June 8, her position would be strengthened at home and in negotiations with the bloc’s 27 other member states.
With a larger majority, May would be less beholden to eurosceptics inside the Conservative Party while winning a personal mandate would strengthen her position. May became prime minister following the resignation of David Cameron last summer, and she has yet to win a parliamentary election.
If she wins in June, May would not need to fight another election until 2022. That would allow her more time to deal with any negative economic effects of Brexit.
Her gamble also means that the biggest three EU economies - Germany, Britain and France - all face elections in 2017.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, John Stonestreet and David Stamp