In Depth

Election 2017: Why did Theresa May call a general election and what happens next?

The Prime Minister repeatedly said she would not go to the polls, yet the country is preparing for another campaign

Theresa May has confirmed she intends to call a snap general election on 8 June, despite previously saying she would not go to the polls before 2020.

The Prime Minister framed her apparent U-turn as an attempt to end "political gameplaying" and guarantee the UK a strong government for Brexit negotiations.

"At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division," she said.

Why has May called a general election?

Opposition parties have criticised the government's plans for leaving the EU, with the most frequent accusation being that voters - including many who voted Leave - do not want the hard Brexit the government is preparing to implement.

Going to the public is a simple and definitive way to put an end to this line of attack. A clear victory would give the government's Brexit strategy legitimacy.

"This election should kill stone dead any Remainer dream that Brexit can be stopped," says The Spectator's James Kirkup.

Of course, putting "hard Brexit" to the test is a risk, but many analysts believe the Prime Minister's announcement was strategically timed to capitalise on recent polls giving the Tories a 21 per cent lead over Labour.

May's surprise election is a "bid to cement her party's grip on power", says The Independent.

What does she stand to gain?

A mandate, crucially. After David Cameron resigned in June, May was elected to take over as party leader and therefore became prime minister.

Consequently, as with Cameron's predecessor Gordon Brown, she has not been directly elected by voters and that puts limits on her influence not just over Brexit, but over all government policies.

With a slim majority in the Commons and no popular mandate to lean on, May must tread lightly or risk accusations of imposing her unelected will on the country.

As a result, she has struggled to push through some of her key proposals - backbench rebellion earlier this year forced an embarrassing U-turn on increasing National Insurance payments for self-employed workers.

A general election will leave May free to "ditch the 2015 Tory manifesto, and campaign on her own policies", says the Financial Times.

If she leads the Tories to victory, the PM will be able to stick to her guns on divisive issues such as building new grammar schools in the name of representing the electorate.

She will also be hoping to increase the Conservatives' majority, which will make it far easier to pass any Brexit deal.

Will May's gamble pay off?

A snap election could consolidate the Tories' power at a moment when the Labour Party is in turmoil, with questions continuing to be asked over Jeremy Corbyn's suitability as leader.

However, pollster Professor John Curtice says the current frenzied political atmosphere means polls could change dramatically over the next six weeks, The Guardian reports.

"Theresa May is very much going for a 'Vote Conservative for my vision of Brexit,'" he said. "If that lead were to narrow, then we could discover that she is back with a rather smaller majority than perhaps she is hoping for."

What happens now?

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, May must have the approval of two-thirds of the Commons to curtail the current session of parliament, which isn't due to finish until 2020.

However, this should not pose a problem. Although Labour theoretically have enough seats to block the motion, Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that his MPs will vote with the government, saying the party "looks forward" to offering the country an "effective alternative" to the Tories.

After the motion is approved, the parties have six weeks to get their message to the electorate.

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