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LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May called Tuesday for an early election on June 8, saying she needed a fresh mandate to move ahead with Britain’s planned break from the European Union.

The surprise announcement — made outside her office at 10 Downing Street — comes amid political strains over Brexit and moves by Scotland to possible carve its own independent path to remain in the European Union.

“I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I have to make,” she said.

Last month, Britain submitted its formal request to begin E.U. exit negotiations.

Theresa May became prime minister in July last year, shortly after the referendum that set in motion Britain’s E.U. divorce and prompted the resignation of her predecessor, David Cameron.

May also is taking a political gambit.

If her Conservative party wins the snap elections, she will have the mandate to pursue her own agenda as she heads into negotiations as Britain exits the European Union — not the one set out by her predecessor Cameron.

But a loss would throw deep uncertainly into the complex talks ahead between Britain and the other 27 E.U. members, and reflect important shifts in the British sentiment since last year’s referendum.

[The Brexit road map]

Polls show that the Conservative party has strong lead over the opposition Labour party of more than 20 points. But the announcement still caught some off guard because Downing Street as repeatedly denied that May would seek an early election. The next one was scheduled for 2020.

The British prime minister used to be able to “call” an election when he or she wanted. But the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act changed that, setting the date of the election every five years, meaning the next election was scheduled for May 2020.

But the leader can still seek an early election if two thirds of the lawmakers in the House of Commons vote for it. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour, has previously said he would agree to an early election.

It is rare for leaders to make statement outside Number 10 Downing Street — it’s usually reserved as the setting for major announcements.

“We need a general election, and we need one now,” May said, “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.”

Although Britain as a whole voted 52 to 48 percent in favor of leaving of the European Union, majorities in both Scotland and Northern Ireland favored staying in the E.U.

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has charged that Scottish voters are being taken out of the bloc against their will, and she said last week that she wants a referendum on independence — a rerun of a September 2014 vote, in which a majority of Scottish voters opted to stay in the United Kingdom — between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.

May has sharply criticized that call. She said over the weekend that “now is not the time” for a Scottish vote. But she has not threatened to veto another referendum.

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