- Theresa May calls for a general election for June 8
- Pound rallies to 10-week high of $1.2671 vs the dollar
- MPs will vote tomorrow on whether to sanction the election
- Latest polls give Tory party a 21-point lead over Labour
- PM says election needed to strengthen UK’s hand in Brexit talks
- PM said decision made “recently and reluctantly”
- Visit the FT’s UK General Election poll tracker page here
Welcome to the FT’s live coverage of today’s statement from UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in which she called a snap general election for June 8th.
Theresa May had ruled out an early election as recently as last month. This from March 20:
“There isn’t going to be one. It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.
Key points from May’s statement:
- general election called for June 8
- government will call on parliament to sanction the election tomorrow (Wednesday)
- May said the decision, which she had long resisted, was taken to help the government carry out its Brexit plan
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has given his reaction:
“This election is your chance to change the direction of our country.
“If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the Single Market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance.
“Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority.”
Alex Barker, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, points out that an election buys the UK government both time and political breathing space for the Brexit negotiations:
Opinion polls suggest that an election will give May’s Tory party a thumping majority, helping it to push through its Brexit plan and the rest of its agenda. Here’s a YouGov poll on May vs Corbyn, published yesterday.
And here, the voting intention poll, giving the Tories a 21 point lead.
The pound, which wobbled on news of a mystery announcement this morning, has recovered on the substance of it. More on fastFT.
Iain Duncan Smith, one of the more senior Conservative MPs and a former leader of the party, tells BBC News that Theresa May’s decision to call for a snap general election – a move she has ruled out repeatedly in the past including very recently – is not just about Brexit. “It is about electing a government with a strong mandate to get on with Brexit but also to get on and govern the country”.
He says: “We want to get rid of all this nonsense about her not having a mandate,” adding: “She wants a strong mandate as prime minister,” as he points out that the current make up in both houses is far from favourable for Theresa May. She has a slim majority in the Commons and the House of Lords has frustrated her on Brexit.
In her earlier speech, Theresa May pointed out that there was still “division in Westminster” over Brexit, while insisting the country was coming together behind her agenda.
Here’s an excerpt of May’s statement this morning, explaining her decision (text via PA):
“Our opponents believe that because the Government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong.
“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.
“If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.
“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.
“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.
Theresa May’s u-turn on calling for a snap election
A reminder that in September last year, Theresa May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”
Downing Street had maintained that line consistently in recent months.
At least one Labour MP won’t be standing for re-election:
More on Blenkinsop’s decision:
“I have made no secret about my significant and irreconcilable differences with the current Labour leadership. It is because of these differences I feel I cannot in good faith stand as the Labour candidate for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomes call for general election
As expected Corbyn has signalled he will vote with the government on Wednesday for an early election, which should give the government a comfortable majority in the Commons:
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.
Political number crunched Matt Singh notes that current polling will make this an unusual general election:
Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon has just given her response:
Sterling update – breaks fresh post-Brexit ground against US dollar
After an initial dip ahead of the surprise announcement by May – when no-one was sure what the Prime MInister was going to say – the pound is holding on to its gains, reports FastFT’s Mehreen Khan.
Sterling is up 0.45 per cent against the dollar on the day, wiping out a brief 0.3 per cent fall, to hit $1.2623 at publication time.
The pound had taken a lurch lower on speculation of an election earlier this morning but has now broken through its 200-day moving average for the first time since the Brexit vote last June.
Why a general election? Camilla Cavendish, former head of the policy unit in Downing Street, explained last month on the comment pages of the FT.
ING notes that the election is unlikely to alter the course of Brexit.
Bookmaker William Hill reckons that the Tories will win a very comfortable victory, and that Jeremy Corbyn will be gone as Labour leader on June 9.
THE CONSERVATIVES have been slashed from 8/13 to 2/9 (87% chance) by William Hill to win the next General Election with an overall majority. Hills make Labour 14/1 to do likewise – the longest odds they have been offered at this century. The chances of a Hung Parliament are rated at 4/1 (20%) by Hills.
But the bookies reckon the future looks bleak for Jeremy Corbyn and William Hill offer 1/2 (66% chance) that he will cease to be Labour leader on or before June 9, 2017, 6/4 that he will still be leader on June 10, 2017.
The EU reacts
The FT’s Duncan Robinson in Brussels has reaction from Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, whose spokesman says the call for a UK snap election will not alter the schedule of Brexit talks from the perspective of the EU27.
“The UK elections do not change our EU27 plans,” said the spokesperson. “We expect to have the Brexit guidelines adopted by the European Council on 29 April and following that the Brexit negotiating directives ready on 22 May.”
Mrs May’s predecessor has lent his support to her decision.
Ukip leader Paul Nuttall says he welcomes the vote, but has his concerns about why it has been called.
Tory MP George Freeman suggests an election will help bind an increasingly fragile United Kingdom:
Business worried about focus of election campaign
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has a warning for the politicians:
“Many business communities will understandably be concerned that attention will inevitably shift from the economy and the intricacies of leaving the EU to a potential election campaign. Firms will want to be reassured that the key challenges facing the economy will be front and centre throughout any election period.”
Here’s a video clip of Theresa May’s statement earlier announcing her decision to call for a vote on holding a snap general election:
Amid a raft of attempted April/May/June puns, the Huffington Post has this:
Ukip donor Arron Banks appears to have confirmed his intention to run against Douglas Carswell – who was until recently the party’s only MP before he quit. He now sits in the Commons as an independent.
Jeremy Corbyn tells the BBC he wants to run a government for everybody
The Labour leader has given a brief interview to the BBC in which he ducked the question about the party’s poor standing in the polls a number of times. Instead he insisted that Labour is the party to deliver better housing, solve the crisis in the NHS and narrow the gap between rich and poor. “We are going to put the case for the way the country could be run.”
Ruth Davidson, head of the Scottish Conservatives, says she “very much welcomes” the early election:
“In Scotland, we will have a clear election message – only a vote for the Scottish Conservatives will ensure we get the strong leadership we need to get the best Brexit deal for the whole country.
“And only a vote for the Scottish Conservatives will send a strong message that we oppose SNP’s divisive plan for a second referendum.
Electoral Calculus, a site recommended by one of our readers, the Tories winning around 50 seats, effectively all at the expense of Labour.
The much touted Lib Dem surge, if these forecasts are right, would not result in a single gained seat.
Tusk is busy on both his Twitter accounts
Donald Tusk has just Tweeted on his official European Council president account that he has just come off the phone with Theresa May:
For those who can’t access Twitter, it reads:
Good phone call with PM @theresa_may on upcoming UK elections.
About 8 minutes earlier, this somewhat more bizarre Tweet popped up on Tusk’s personal account, we are still trying to decipher it:
For those who can’t access Twitter, it reads:
It was Hitchcock, who directed Brexit: first an earthquake and the tension rises.
You may well have forgotten, but there is meant to be a by-election in Manchester Gorton next month. Faisal Islam of Sky News says it will go ahead – suggesting that the winner will have to fight for re-election a month later.
Market outlook after the call for a snap election
The FT’s Michael Hunter has been talking to analysts who say the call for fresh elections looks set to lift the pound, which in turn was likely to be negative for UK stocks, at least in the short term.
Richard Hunter, head of research at stockbroker Wilson King, pointed to June 8 as “a fresh addition to the risk calendar,” and said it was likely to put the break on further gains to the UK equity market, at least for the time being.
“The worst-case scenario for UK stocks, at least in the immediate term, is that elements from across the current opposition parties unite to use the election to call for a new referendum. That would add to the existing uncertainty that the general election creates, since it would be likely to lift sterling, hurting the benefits to the London stock markets of a weaker pound.”
Stephen Gallo, European head of FX strategy at Bank of Montreal, said the election and the expected addition to the number of seats held by the governing Conservative party, would support the pound, but he stuck to his
“The pound remains worth selling against the dollar in the $1.2550 to $1.2700 range, on a three month basis. It becomes a buy at $1.20 and below.”
David Stubbs, Global Market Strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, said: “A stronger government would marginally favour UK risk assets as investor’s prize stability highly, but global growth conditions, commodity prices and the pace of consumer spending at home will likely be more decisive factors powering UK asset returns in coming quarters.”
Here’s a chart of the FTSE-100 and FTSE-250 over the last two trading days (either side of the long Easter weekend)
The Lib Dems, the most vocal anti-Brexit party, say they have registered 1,000 new members since the snap election was announced.
Is the economy a factor in pushing May towards an early vote? Some people think. This, from Howard Archer of IHS Markit:
The government will hardly be oblivious to the fact that life is likely to get more difficult economically for voters over the coming months. Consumers are facing an increasing squeeze on their purchasing power that is likely to deepen further.
The government may also suspect that consumer confidence could be increasingly pressurised over the coming months not only from weaker purchasing power but also from weaker economic activity.
It is also very possible that the labour market will start to soften before long. Additionally, if negotiations with the EU over Brexit prove to be difficult and fractious, this may also concern consumers
The FT’s Scotland correspondent Mure Dickie reports that the SNP is framing the inevitable election in June as a battle versus Conservative rule:
Nicola Sturgeon has denounced Theresa May’s call for a June general election as a “huge political miscalculation” that will reinforce her Scottish National party’s mandate for a referendum on leaving the UK.
The first minister and SNP leader moved quickly to frame the election north of the English border as a battle against extended UK Conservative rule.
“This will be, more than ever before, an election about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland,” Ms Sturgeon said in a statement.
The election was an effort to further Tory interests by “grabbing control of government for many years to come” and moving the UK further to the right with a hard Brexit, the first minister said.
She made no direct of her call for a second independence referendum to be held by spring 2019, but made clear that she expected the election to increase pressure on Mrs May to rethink her rejection of such a plebiscite.
“In terms of Scotland, this move is a huge political miscalculation by the prime minister,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“It will once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future.”
Here’s a bit more from our 2015 general election results rundown:
And here’s an indication of the consistency and magnitude of the Tory party’s advantage in opinion polls.
Can the Lib Dems become the party of the 48%?
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, has just appeared on the BBC and made it clear that a vote for his party is a vote to remain in the European Single Market, maintaining his position that the referendum on whether or not to leave the EU (the vote was 52% to 48% in favour) last year was flawed as it did not give people any say about what sort of Brexit they wanted. The Tory government has made it clear that it intends to take the UK out of the Single Market as part of its withdrawal from the EU.
In recent weeks, however, Theresa May appears to have softened her tone in several areas, including free movement of people, a key prerequisite for a full open trade deal with the EU.
One of the big questions on the lips of British political journalists: will George Osborne (former chancellor, MP for Tatton, BlackRock adviser, Kissinger Fellow at the McCain Institute, editor of The Evening Standard) offer himself up for re-election?
Trade union Unite, which is already in internal election mode, has swiftly switched to external election mode.
“The country now has a choice between whether to vote for a Conservative party which is determined to pursue a hard, disastrous Brexit and is wedded to continuing with miserable austerity and destroying the rights and living standards of working people, or a Labour party which is presenting real, positive change based on a fairer economy and determined to ensure that on leaving the EU, jobs and communities can thrive.
The pound is up, but UK equities are heading south. The FTSE 100 is off 1.8 per cent, while the domestic-focused FTSE 250 is down 0.9 per cent.
More on the Lib Dem election tactics
The FT’s Robert Wright has these insights on the kind of election campaign the Lib Dems are likely to fight:
The Liberal Democrats, which has just 9 MPs after losing 49 seats at the last election in 2015, look set to push the message that unlike the Labour Party, they have a clear position on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.
“I think it becomes a referendum on the kind of Brexit,” one Liberal Democrat source said of the election.
The Liberal Democrats favour holding a referendum on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal, with the two options either an accepting the negotiated terms or reject them and remain part of the bloc.
The party will push hard in its traditional heartlands, such as Cornwall and Devon, where it lost all of its seats to the Tories in 2015. But it will also target areas where Labour or Conservative MPs who supported Brexit represent areas that opposed leaving the EU. Among MPs vulnerable to such a challenge from the Lib Dems are Anne Main, the Conservative MP for St Albans, and Kate Hoey, the pro-Brexit Labour MP for Vauxhall, one of the country’s most pro-EU areas.
The EIU has given its snap judgment on the snap election. It believes that the Tory majority will indeed grow, but perhaps by not as much as polls suggest.
First, having promised on several occasions not to hold an early poll, the prime minister will be seen to have gone back on her word.
Second, there is little public appetite for another election so soon after the 2015 poll, the long and enervating Brexit referendum campaign in 2016 and the battle over triggering Article 50 that ensued.
Third, many will interpret the decision to hold a snap poll as a cynical political gambit designed to capitalise on Labour’s disarray. These factors could contribute to a low turnout on June 8th.
Election presents major challenges for SNP in Scotland
The FT’s Mure Dickie has filed some analysis on what the snap election means for the SNP’s plans to call a second independence refererendum expanding further on comments by Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, that May has made a “huge political miscalculation” that would reinforce her democratic mandate
for “giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future”.
The Conservatives have signalled that part of their strategy in Scotland will be
to portray Labour as to weak to fend off the SNP, an approach that
helped them win in England in 2015 but which threatens to add to the
political divergence with Scotland. And Labour’s decline itself
threatens one of the institutional pillars of the 310-year-old union
at the heart of the UK.
Yet the general election also raises major challenges for the SNP. It
is likely to entrench a Conservative UK government that appears
determined not to give constitutional ground, whatever the result in
The SNP may also struggle to repeat the extraordinary result it
achieved in 2015, when it won in all but three of Scotland’s 59
Westminster constituencies. The dominance of the constitutional issue
may encourage anti-SNP tactical voting, which had only limited impact
last time. Even modest gains for the Scottish Conservatives will be
taken as a sign that the Nationalists have peaked.
Ms Sturgeon will come under pressure to set out in more detail her
vision for independence, revisiting old questions of currency and
markets in the context of Brexit. She must also manage potential
tensions with SNP supporters who themselves voted to leave the EU. In
a reflection of the sensitivities, the first minister’s statement made
no direct mention of independence and only one glancing reference to
Europe. But she will not be able to sustain such reticence until June
Sterling hits five-month high vs dollar
The FT’s Roger Blitz reports the pound continues to rally on the back of May’s call for an election:
Another leg-up for sterling. The pound is now 1.3 per cent higher to a five-month high of $1.2729. December 6 was the last time sterling reached that level. The next key target is $1.2774 which, if breached, would return the pound to its ear-October level.
Has May tamed the sterling bears?
The FT’s Roger Blitz reports that one of the biggest sterling bears has changed tack. George Savaelos, forex strategist at Deutsche Bank said it was closing all its bearish forex sterling trades, because the June 8 announcement was “a game-changer” for Brexit negotiations and sterling.
An early election was the only way to break the political impasse facing the UK, Mr Saravelos wrote last year. But now, Mrs May’s announcement had achieved three things, he wrote this morning.
“First, it makes the deadline to deliver a ‘clean’ Brexit without a lengthy transitional arrangement by 2019 far less pressing given that no general election will be due the year after.
“Second it will dilute the influence of MPs pushing for hard Brexit, strengthening the government’s domestic political position and allowing earlier compromise over key EU demands for a transitional arrangement.
“Third, it strengthens the PM’s overall negotiating stance which in recent weeks has clearly fallen in line with the European negotiating approach.”
Register to vote online
There is still enough time to register for the proposed snap general election on June 8 by signing up online here.
Good economic news for the UK
In her statement earlier outlining her plans to call a vote on an early election, Theresa May cited unexpectedly strong economic growth as one of the marks of her fledgling premiership.
Things are looking even brighter for the government after the International Monetary Fund right on cue once again upgraded its UK growth forecast, reversing nearly all of the downgrade it pencilled in after last summer’s Brexit vote.
In its latest assessment of prospects for global growth, published on Tuesday, the IMF predicted the UK economy will expand this year by 2 per cent, a sharp increase of 0.5 percentage points from the forecast it made in January. The IMF also upgraded its UK forecast for next year, from 1.4 per cent to 1.5 per cent.
Before the EU referendum last year, the IMF predicted the UK economy would grow 2.2 per cent in 2017. But it cut the forecast to 1.3 per cent last July, weeks after the Brexit vote, and downgraded it further, to 1.1 per cent, in October.
You can read the full story by the FT’s Gemma Tetlow here.
Lib Dem big guns are planning to stand
It is a mark of the Lib Dems’ self-confidence that it expects some of its highest-profile figures who lost their seats at the 2015 election – when the party was punished by voters for going into coalition with the Conservatives in the five years from 2010 – to stand again in the coming election, reports the FT’s Robert Wright.
Among those expected to seek to re-enter parliament are Sir Vince Cable (pictured below at the 2015 election count), who served as Secretary of State for Business, Industry and Skills in the coalition government, and Ed Davey, who was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2012 to 2015. Sir Vince, 73, lost his Twickenham seat, in south-west London, in the 2015 election, while Mr Davey lost the nearby seat of Kingston and Surbiton. Neither Sir Vince nor Mr Davey immediately responded to requests to comment on their plans.
It sounds like the Manchester Gorton by-election won’t happen after all.
German reaction to plans for UK general election
The FT’s Berlin bureau chief, Guy Chazan, reports that German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (pictured below, left) said he hoped the UK election would bring more clarity to Brexit. “Predictability and reliability are more important than ever after the Brits’ Brexit vote,” he told the Funke media group. “Any long period of uncertainty is bad for political and economic relations.”
Brexit must not dominate general election
Further to the earlier plea from business (see post at 12:11) that politicians should not forget core issues during the upcoming election campaign, the British Medical Association has weighed in on the NHS, reports the FT’s Sarah Neville:
The British Medical Association has sought to put health front and centre in the election campaign, with Mark Porter, who chairs its ruling council, saying the National Health Service “must not be pushed to the margins in the focus on Brexit”.
He claims that consecutive governments “have been in denial about the state of the NHS and when it comes to elections have chosen to use it as a political football”. This time round, they must “outline credible and sustainable plans that will safeguard the future of the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve”, Dr Porter says.
On the basis of what Corbyn said earlier, it seems unlikely that the funding and staffing crisis in the NHS will be forgotten.
May has largest lead in polls of any Tory leader in modern history
PA has put together this infographic underlining the strong position of Theresa May’s government ahead of the likely June election. We provide this with the obvious caveat that the recent performances of pollsters in predicting election results leaves a bit to be desired:
MPs vote tomorrow on May’s call for an election
Legislation introduced in 2011 set a 5-year fixed term for each parliament. The Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to remove what was perhaps the prime minister’s greatest weapon: the prerogative powers on behalf of the crown to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. It was rarely used as the FT’s legal blogger David Allen Green points out “but the possibility of it being exercised was enough.”
The act requires that two-thirds of MPs vote to support an early election. Read David Allen Green’s full blog post here on why he feels the act has failed as a constitutional tool.
A walk in Wales prompted May to call election
Theresa May has been talking to ITV’s political editor Robert Peston about her decision to do a u-turn and call an election. Asked whether there was a specific moment when she changed her mind, she replied:
Well as I say, when we were going through the Article 50 process, the opposition, the potential attempts to jeopardise or frustrate the process in the future became clearer. 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 certainty and stability for the future, that this was the way to do it, to have an election. I trust the British people. The British people gave the government a job to do to in terms of coming out of the EU and I‘m going to be asking the British people to put their trust in me in ensuring we deliver a success of that.
Mrs May and her husband Philip are picture below on an earlier walking holiday in Switzerland last year:
May rips up 2015 election manifesto
A bit more from the interview with Theresa May and ITV’s Robert Peston:
Robert Peston: Finally, I think this issue of trust is so important. You said repeatedly it’s so important to rebuild the trust of people in politicians…how can you persuade British people that this isn’t just a cynical taking advantage of a wide poll margin in the Tories’ favour?
Theresa May: Well I think if people look at what I’ve done and what we’ve done in government since the Referendum vote, since I took over as Prime Minister, we have provided stability and crucially we have rolled our sleeves up, we have got on with the job, we’ve said we are going to deliver on Brexit. We have taken that absolutely crucial first step, which is triggering Article 50. There is no turning back now. The UK will be leaving the EU. I think, I hope what people will see is I am somebody who likes to just get on with the job and get the job done and I want to do is to be able to do that for the future. To deliver a real success of Brexit, deliver for working people up and down this country and to deliver a future, an ambitious future for a stronger Britain in the future. I believe I can do that with a stronger negotiating hand in Europe and with the backing of the British people at an election.
RP: And in an emotional sense, having your own personal mandate rather than one inherited from David Cameron?
TM: Well I think times have changed. I stood on the Conservative Party manifesto in 2015 but that manifesto was for a time when there was going to be a Referendum but there was a general assumption that we would stay in the EU. Things have changed. We are leaving the European Union. We need to look now for a different future. That global Britain, that ambitious, strong, confident Britain. Out there around the world but also ensuring that there is prosperity and growth for everybody up and down the whole United Kingdom.
Moody’s issues cautious statement
Amid all the market euphoria, Moody’s has adopted a more cautious note:
“Further to the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier today to hold an early general election on 8th June, Moody’s notes that the negative outlook on the UK’s sovereign rating indicates that its future path will be mainly driven by the outcome of the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the European Union as well as by fiscal developments, given the UK’s comparatively weak public finances. Moody’s will assess the implications of the proposed election, should it occur, for those drivers as events unfold, including whether the election or its aftermath are likely to prove a distraction from the Brexit negotiations, given the limited time frame available.”