Sunderland politicians react to election call

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in Downing Street, London, announcing a snap general election on June 8.
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in Downing Street, London, announcing a snap general election on June 8.
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A Sunderland MP has accused Theresa May of wasting time by calling a General Election rather the concentrating on Brexit negotiations.

But the leader of the city’s Tories says the vote will be a chance for the Prime Minister to establish a firm mandate for the talks.

Julie Elliott MP

Julie Elliott MP

Today’s move stunned Westminster, as Mrs May and Number 10 have repeatedly insisted she would not seek a general election before the scheduled 2020 poll.

But Mrs May, who has a fragile working majority of just 17 in the Commons, said she wanted “unity” at Westminster as talks on Brexit begin in earnest with the European Union.

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said: “I’m very surprised that Theresa May is calling a General Election when she has consistently said that she wouldn’t do so.

“The last thing this country needs is the instability a General Election will cause. Theresa May should get on with getting the best deal for our country in negotiations with the EU, instead of calling an unnecessary general election and playing politics with the British public for her own ends.

The last thing this country needs is the instability a General Election will cause.

Julie Elliott

“If she thinks another election is what the British public want, she should get out of her Westminster bubble and get into the real world.

“I will fight this election on the record of having been the Labour MP for Sunderland Central for almost seven years. I always put Sunderland first in everything I do and I will ask the people of Sunderland Central to give me the opportunity and privilege of being their member of parliament representing them in Westminster.

“Sunderland is my city, it’s where I have always lived. I want it to thrive and will always play my part in getting the best for Sunderland. I hope to continue to be able to do that after June 8.”

Sunderland City Council opposition leader Coun Peter Wood said he thought Julie Elliott would face a close battle: “The opinion polls suggest Sunderland Central might be more closely contested than it would have been otherwise.”

Councillor Peter Wood.

Councillor Peter Wood.

He believed a General Election win for Mrs May would give her a strong mandate for the Brexit negotiations. Sunderland’s result was the first indication on referendum night that the UK was heading out of Europe.

“I think it is always good for a Government to have a distinct mandate from the electorate,” he said.

“And Prime Ministers always prefer to have been elected as such at the helm of their party, rather than to have inherited the post.

“Winning a mandate would put the Prime Minister in an even stronger position.”

Niall Hodson

Niall Hodson

And, conservative Coun Robert Oliver, said: “The decision by Theresa May to seek a general election is the right one for the country as it will give stability to the process by which the UK leaves the EU and continue the economic recovery.

With unemployment in the North East at its lowest rate since 2008 and investment piling into Sunderland, the people of the city have a clear choice to make for the long-term future of Wearside.

“That choice is between the strong and stable leadership of the prime minister and the weak leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who is not supported by any of the city’s three members of parliament.”

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Sunderland Niall Hodson said the party was the choice for anyone unhappy at the prospect of a ‘hard’ Brexit: “This election is a huge opportunity for voters in Sunderland to change the direction of our country and ensure Britain has a decent opposition,” he said.

“People in Sunderland may have voted to leave the EU, but many did not vote for the extreme form of Brexit that Theresa May has imposed on us after being backed by Labour.

“The people of Sunderland have lacked a strong voice in Parliament for far too long - it’s about time things changed around here. For all those people who feel Labour lack the backbone to stand up for our city, this is your chance.

Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South.

Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South.

“The Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Government and the only party fighting for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.”

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said: “The gauntlet has been laid down, despite Theresa May repeatedly saying that a General Election was not in the interests of the British public as we begin the process of leaving the European Union.

“Labour’s alternative approach to this Tory Government will be to invest in our public services, ensure much-needed economic growth is felt here in the North East & we secure a Brexit deal that works for everyone.

“Labour is, and always has been, committed to putting the interests of the many first and will stand up for the British people. We will make this case to the country in the coming weeks ahead.”

And her Houghton and Sunderland South colleague Bridget Phillipson added: “I’m from this community and it is a privilege to serve the people of Houghton and Sunderland South.

“Less than two years ago, local people put their trust in me. I’ll be asking voters to let me continue working hard for them on the issues that matter - jobs, the NHS and tackling anti-social behaviour.”

Jonathan Walker, head of policy and campaigns with the North East England Chamber of Commerce said the reason for calling the election was less important than what happened next: “There will be a huge amount of speculation about the PM’s motivation for calling for a general election,” he said.

“Whatever the reasoning, the onus is on all parties to demonstrate how they will deliver fair economic growth for businesses in the North East and help the UK secure the best possible Brexit deal.”

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.

She said: “We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world.

“That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world.

“This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it.

“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.”

She acknowledged that 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.”

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, general elections take place every five years, meaning Mrs May would have had to carry on until 2020 before the chance to strengthen her position.

In order to call the early election, she will need the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs in the Commons - but Labour is expected to support her, as any opposition would look weak if it did not agree to the chance to take office.

Senior Tories have urged Mrs May to call an early election, taking advantage of the Conservatives’ healthy opinion poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Mrs May suggested she reached her decision over the Easter parliamentary recess - during which she went on a walking holiday in North Wales.

“I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion,” the PM said.

“Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020.

“But now I have concluded that 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 must take.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has welcomed Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election, saying his party would offer an “effective alternative” to the Tories.

Mr Corbyn said the Prime Minister’s surprise decision to call an election on June 8, almost three years earlier than the next scheduled ballot, would give the people the chance to vote for a government that will put the “majority first”.

The Labour leader indicated that his MPs would support Mrs May’s demand for an early election, which will require the backing of two-thirds of all MPs.

He said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people 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.

“In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain.”

MP Sharon Hodgson.

MP Sharon Hodgson.