Prime minister Theresa May has announced a snap general election in a statement outside Downing Street so she can win a direct mandate to take the country through the Brexit divorce with the European Union.
The decision, which comes just three weeks after the prime minister began the formal Brexit process, stunned many British politicians as they returned from their Easter break.
Explaining her change of heart on an early election, Mrs May said: "I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election."
Mrs May confirmed the general election will take place on 8 June.
Mrs May had previously said categorically that the next general election would be held as scheduled in 2020, and many Conservative backbenchers had shown little enthusiasm for a vote.
“It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election,” her spokesman said on 20 March.
The prime minister is understood to have changed her mind after taking advice from senior figures including Sir Lynton Crosby, mastermind of the 2015 election campaign.
According to FTAdviser's sister newspaper two polls over the Easter weekend put the Conservatives 21 points ahead of Labour, a lead that is likely to greatly increase its existing working Commons majority of 17.