Betting markets predict a 90 seat Conservative majority in snap June election

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She said: "It's great to be here in Bolton, fresh from the House of Commons, fresh from winning a vote in the House of Commons, which has approved my decision to hold a General Election on 8 June".

And at PMQs in the Commons, he told her: "She says it's about leadership, yet is refusing to defend her record in television debates and it's not hard to see why".

"We do not share the market's perception that the call for general elections is a U-turn in Brexit politics".

The goal of the election, May said, is to give Britain the "strong and stable leadership it deserves" following the decision to leave the European Union.

With Conservatives as much as 21 points ahead of Labour in recent opinion polls, May is calculating she can increase her slim majority of just 17 lawmakers and win a strong mandate for her own policies on Brexit, tax, and education.

She says an early election would provide "certainty and stability" in the negotiations, which will now start after the vote.

May, who had taken charge as Prime Minister just weeks after Britain's voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, had repeatedly dismissed the idea of an early election. "They are yesterday's rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past".

They voted 522 to 13 to authorise an early poll, with the Prime Minister easily securing the support of two-thirds of MPs required to dissolve Parliament and bring the election forward from the scheduled date of 2020.

Parliament will still sit for another fortnight, but party leaders wasted no time in hitting the campaign trail on Wednesday evening.

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A vote is expected around 2pm in London.

She told MPs: "There are three things a country needs, a strong economy, strong defence and strong, stable leadership".

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union and Sturgeon argues it should now be allowed to break off from Britain to hold on to close ties with the bloc.

YouGov poll on behalf of The Times puts the Conservatives in a massive lead. Further, an ideological schism has long festered between the staunchly left-wing Mr Corbyn and a rival section of the Labour leadership, which is more centrist.

So far, Labour's stance has been to allow the government to go ahead with the European Union divorce - but only under certain conditions, such as retaining strong economic ties with the bloc.

And Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood - whose profile received a major boost from her involvement in two of the 2015 broadcasts - said: "Theresa May should be empty chaired if she doesn't show up to any planned TV debates".

Sterling's rally since May's has been partially driven by a belief in the markets that May increasing her majority will allow her to take a more conciliatory stance on Brexit, and move away from the sort of Brexit favoured by hardline Conservative MPs, who now have a disproportionate influence on policy thanks to the party's slim majority.

But one of last year's strongest pro-European voices, former Conservative finance minister George Osborne, will not seek re-election.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the dominant force and is advocating an independence referendum to hold on to strong ties with Europe.