London (Reuters): British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for an early election on June 8, saying she needed to strengthen her hand in divorce talks with the European Union by bolstering support for her Brexit plan.
Standing outside her Downing Street office, May said she had been reluctant to ask parliament to back her move to bring forward the poll from 2020. But, after thinking "long and hard" during a walking holiday, she decided it was necessary to try to stop the opposition "jeopardising" her work on Brexit.
Some were surprised by May's move - the Conservative prime minister has repeatedly said she does not want to be distracted by campaigning - but opinion polls give her a strong lead and the British economy has so far defied predictions of a slowdown.
Growth is faster than expected, consumer confidence is high and unemployment low, but the economy may be poised to pass its peak as consumers start to feel the strain from rising prices.
Sterling rose to a four-month high against the U.S. dollar after the market bet that May would strengthen her parliamentary majority, which Deutsche Bank said would be a "game-changer" for the pound.
But the stronger pound helped push Britain's main share index to close down 2.3 percent, its biggest one-day loss since June 27, days after Britain voted to leave the EU.
"It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond," May said.
"Before Easter I spent a few days walking in Wales with my husband, thought about this long and hard, and came to the decision that to provide that stability and certainty for the future that this was the way to do it, to have an election," she told ITV news.