May added that opposition from other parties over the Conservative government’s approach to Brexit had prompted her to call for an election.
The next general election was not scheduled until 2020, but the Prime Minister can call one early if two-thirds of MPs in the House of Commons agree.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has already signalled his approval for the move.
May added: “It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.”
The move adds to a year of significant political decisions in Europe, with French presidential elections taking place in the next month, starting with the first round of votes on April 23, while Germany holds its federal elections in September.