May names the day as she seeks mandate for Brexit negotiations
Theresa May has said she called a shock early election in order to be able to go into Brexit negotiations with the "backing of the British people" as her "very clear mandate".
Mrs May said she was concerned that opposition parties would seek to derail Brexit by voting against key pieces of legislation including the Great Repeal Bill which will provide the legislative authority to take Britain out of the European Union.
Having repeatedly ruled out calling a snap election in the past, Mrs May said she had "reluctantly" taken the decision to go to the country after seeing other parties "playing games" with the process of preparing for Brexit negotiations.
Her final decision was taken during a walking holiday in Snowdonia with husband Philip, and she told the Queen on Easter Monday before getting the full approval of Cabinet on Tuesday morning.
Speaking to The Sun ahead of a parliamentary vote to approve her election plans on Wednesday, Mrs May said: "What I hope comes out of the election is support from the public to say we agree with their plan for Brexit, so that when I go into Europe I've got that backing of the British people".
She also revealed a concern that the May 2020 election date stipulated by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act would leave her vulnerable to pressure from Brussels as she neared the end of the two-year withdrawal negotiations in March 2019.
"If we're negotiating at a point that is quite close to a general election, I think the Europeans might have seen that as a time of weakness when they could push us," she explained. "Now we will be much freer."
The gap before talks begin in earnest in June gave her a "window of opportunity" to strengthen her hand by improving her slim 17-seat majority and pushing the next election date back to 2022, by which time the UK should have long ago left the EU.
Mrs May indicated that Conservative candidates will be expected to sign up to her manifesto in full, putting pressure on remaining europhiles within her party to toe the line.
She insisted that the election would not focus solely on EU withdrawal but would see Conservatives set out plans for "the UK beyond Brexit".
And she set out her line of attack against Labour, saying voters would face a choice between "stable and strong leadership, which I hope they have seen, and a coalition of Corbyn supported by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP".
Mrs May's announcement shocked Westminster, but both Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron quickly indicated that their parties will back it
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act introduced by her predecessor David Cameron, the Prime Minister will require the support of two-thirds of MPs to go to the country, with a vote scheduled in the Commons on Wednesday.
Mrs May and Number 10 have repeatedly insisted she would not seek a general election before the scheduled 2020 poll.
But s he rejected suggestions she was simply seeking to take advantage of an opportunity to extend her lead at a time when polls put Conservatives as many as 21 points ahead of Labour, insisting an election now was "in the best long-term interests of this country".
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mrs May acknowledged she needed a stronger position in the Commons to secure her plans for the UK's future outside the EU.
"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."
Mr Corbyn said Mrs May's decision had given voters 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," said the Labour leader.
Mr Farron said the election provided an opportunity to block "a disastrous hard Brexit".
"This election is your chance to change the direction of our country," he said in a message to voters.
"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."
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the election call as "a huge political miscalculation by the Prime Minister", accusing Mrs May of "once again putting the interests of her party ahead of those of the country".
"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," said the SNP leader.
Tony Blair issued a call for voters to back candidates who would be ready to vote down Mrs May's final Brexit deal if it is bad for the country. He warned the UK risked "huge" damage if a Tory landslide allowed Mrs May to pursue "Brexit at all costs" without restraint.
The former Labour prime minister insisted he was not calling for "tactical voting or an anti-Tory alliance" but his comments came close to endorsing a vote for non-Labour candidates who oppose Brexit.
Following her election announcement, Mrs May made separate phone calls to US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said 10 Downing Street.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested that a larger Conservative majority would give Mrs May more leeway to compromise in Brexit talks.
Ms Rudd told BBC2's Newsnight: "It certainly gives her an opportunity - if she gets what we hope she'll get, and we are not complacent, a good majority - the opportunity to arrive at potential compromises within the EU, potential lines that she can set."
She added: "I don't think we know yet what kind of Brexit we are going to end up with."
The White House said President Trump "wished the British people the best of luck in their electoral process" in his conversation with Mrs May.