The Prime Minister has shocked the nation by announcing a snap General Election.
The poll will be held on June 8.
The news comes after repeated denials by Number 10 that the PM would call a snap election but also just days after some polls showed Labour at an historic low.
As a stunned Westminster looked on May said she would go to the country early. The decision followed a Cabinet meeting. Speaking outside Number 10, the Prime Minister said the Cabinet had agreed to call an early election.
The move takes place against the backdrop of the country’s decision to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum.
Justifying the decision, May said: ‘The country is coming together but Westminster is not.’
She said the ‘division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit’.
Explaining her change of heart on an early election, Mrs May said: ‘I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.’
May said she was acting now because of the opposition in Parliament to the Government’s plans for Brexit.
‘Our opponents believe because the Government’s majority is so small that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change. They are wrong,’ she said.
‘They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country, because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe.’
Without a snap general election, May said ‘political game-playing’ in Westminster would continue and lead to negotiations with the EU reaching their ‘most difficult stage’ in the run-up to the previously scheduled 2020 vote.
‘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 said.
‘So we need a general election and we need one now. Because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done, while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.’
May suggested she reached her decision over the Easter parliamentary recess, following previous denials that she would call an early vote.
‘I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion,’ the PM said. ‘Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020.
‘But now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the news saying his party would offer an ‘effective alternative’ to the Tories.
He said the Prime Minister’s surprise decision to call an election on June 8, almost three years earlier than the next scheduled ballot, would give the people the chance to vote for a government that will put the ‘majority first’.
The Labour leader indicated that his MPs would support May’s demand for an early election, which will require the backing of two-thirds of all MPs.
He said: ‘I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.
‘Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a Government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS.
‘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.’