Prime Minister Theresa May has announced there will be a snap General Election on 8 June.
In an unexpected announcement at 11.00 today, May (pictured) said an election would be held in less than two months' time.
She had previously ruled out an early General Election, stating in March that "it is not going to happen" as it would be a distraction from EU negotiations.
However, in today's statement she said Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum.
May said the way to "guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take".
The Prime Minister said she had taken the decision to call a snap election "recently and reluctantly". She intends to table a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow to enable the election to be called. MPs will be required to vote and May will need a two-thirds majority for the motion to be carried.
May said this was the best time to call a General Election as if they waited to the scheduled date in 2020 it would clash with the most difficult stage in the Brexit negotiations.
She added the country is coming together following the Brexit vote, but Westminster remains divided with political fighting between the various parties.
"At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.
"If we do not hold a General Election now, their political game playing will continue," May said.
In a recent poll conducted by ComRes, the Conservative party was 21 points ahead of Labour, the party's greatest lead while in government since 1983, with 46% of the vote share. It is the largest lead by any political party since 2009.
Figures from Betfair show the Conservatives are "clear favourites" to win both an overall majority and most seats in the election.
In the hour leading up to the speech, which had not been scheduled, sterling fell 0.3% against the dollar, having previously been up as much as 0.3% to around an eight-week high in the last hour.
The UK's 10-year gilt yield slipped to its lowest since October, losing 3 basis points (0.03 percentage points) to 1.008%, according to the Financial Times.
However, following May's speech, sterling was down only 0.1% at $1.266, while against the euro it was 0.3% lower at 1.177 euros. The FTSE 100 index is down 92 points, or 1.3%, at 7,235.
Shilen Shah, bond strategist at Investec Wealth & Investment, said: "Following some initial weakness ahead of the statement, sterling has stabilised and is slightly up on the day. Gilt yields have also been stable, with the 10-year yield hitting a session low of 1.01%.
"Overall, today's announcement suggests the Prime Minister wants full control of the Brexit process without any interference from the opposition."
Peter Ashton, managing director of Eiger FX, added: "The markets were quick to price in greater economic and policy stability under what they expect will be a significant majority given the weakness of the opposition.
"There is still huge uncertainty surrounding the implementation of Brexit but a strong majority party will help to provide a degree of stability while we negotiate the choppy waters ahead. After last week's strong jobs data this is yet another positive development for sterling."
Theresa May became Prime Minister last summer following the resignation of David Cameron after the Brexit referendum.
She has been leading the UK's exit plan from the EU, triggering Article 50 at the end of March which started the Brexit negotiations.
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