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UK leader Theresa May 'reluctantly' calls for early election as Brexit negotiations begin

U.K. citizens could be heading to the ballot boxes again this Summer after British Prime Minister Theresa May called for an early general election as difficult Brexit negotiations get underway.

The prime minister said in a surprise statement on Tuesday morning that her decision had been made "recently and reluctantly", but argued that the U.K. has a "one-off opportunity" to form a unified government while the EU decides its negotiating position on Brexit.

"We need a general election and we need one now," May said Tuesday at the announcement held outside 10 Downing Street. The early election is due to be held on June 8 but would a need a two-thirds majority by U.K. lawmakers before being made official.

May had previously stated there would be no snap elections after coming to power shortly after the Brexit vote last June. The prime minister will move a motion in government Wednesday to confirm the election.

Division within Westminster currently threatens to undermine Britain's chances of securing a good Brexit deal, May argued, and said that an early election is the only way to guarantee "certainty and stability for the years ahead."

"At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster but instead there is division," said May. "Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty."

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement to the nation at Downing Street on April 18, 2017 in London.
Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement to the nation at Downing Street on April 18, 2017 in London.

The next scheduled general election was due to take place in 2020, when the U.K. is due to be finalizing its Brexit negotiations. May was not elected by the British public but won a Conservative party leadership contest in 2016 after her predecessor David Cameron announced his resignation in the wake of the U.K.'s vote to leave the EU.

'Effective alternative'

May called on opposition parties to use the vote as a chance to show that they are not "treating politics as a game." Meanwhile, leaders from the U.K.'s key opposition parties took to social media shortly after the announcement.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who himself has faced division within his own Labour party, said the move would give the British public the chance to elect an "effective alternative."

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron - who will likely campaign stay in the EU's single market -said Britons had been given an opportunity to "change the direction of our country."

"If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit ... If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance," he said in a statement.

A recent YouGov poll however suggests that the governing Conservative party currently maintains the lead, garnering 44 percent of public support, while the Labour party holds 23 percent and the Liberal Democrats trail behind with 12 percent.

Pound rises sharply

The U.K. pound fell by nearly a cent against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday morning ahead of the statement but quickly rebounded on May's announcement. It had hit a session high of around 1.260 against the greenback at 8:00 a.m. London time, but sunk to around 1.252 as traders anticipated the announcement. Confirmation of the news then sent the pound back up to around 1.260 at around 11:30 a.m. London time.

At midday London time, the currency hit a four-month high on a trade-weighted basis.