Rishi Sunak rules out snap UK election

Prime Minister said his 'working assumption' is to hold an election in the second half of this year

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a visit to a youth centre in Mansfield, East Midlands, on Thursday. PA
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears to have ruled out holding a general election this spring after coming under pressure to call a vote soon.

On a visit to Mansfield on Thursday, Mr Sunak said he did not anticipate the poll being held until the second half of the year.

“So my working assumption is we'll have a general election in the second half of this year and in the meantime I've got lots that I want to get on with,” he said.

Mr Sunak dangled the prospect of future tax cuts and attacked Keir Starmer's green proposals as the two leaders set out their stalls at the start of the election year.

“I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people's taxes,” the Prime Minister said. “But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration.

“So I've got lots to get on with and I'm determined to keep delivering for the British people.”

Labour has claimed that a spring vote is the “worst-kept secret in Parliament” in a possible ploy to claim Mr Sunak has bottled it if he goes on longer.

The Liberal Democrats have also been calling for Mr Sunak to hold the vote in May rather than trying to “cling on” to power for the rest of the year.

Mr Sunak has until January 2025 to hold the election.

Waiting gives him more time to turn around the Tories' dire polling, but also risks another summer of migrant small boat crossings as he struggles to get the Rwanda policy off the ground.

The Conservatives' and Labour's election campaigns were well under way on Thursday, as the party leaders visited battleground areas.

Making a speech at a research facility near Bristol, Mr Starmer said people are “right to be anti-Westminster and angry about what politics has become” in his opening pitch of the year to voters.

Lashing out at what he called a culture of kickbacks, revolving doors and fast lanes for the politically connected, Mr Starmer referred to his time as the country's chief prosecutor to declare his rise to No 10 Downing Street would mean a “total crackdown on cronyism”.

The Labour leader urged the public to “hold on to hope” as he asked them to “believe in it again”.

“I will say you’re right to be anti-Westminster, right to be angry about what politics has become,” he said.

“But hold on to any flickering hope in your heart that things can be better, because they can. You can choose it,” he said.

“You can reject the pointless populist gestures and the low-road cynicism that the Tories believe is all you deserve.

“That’s all they have left now after 14 years, with nothing good to show, no practical achievements to point towards, no purpose beyond the fight to save their own skins.

“They can’t change Britain, so they try to undermine the possibility of change itself.”

The latest a general election can be called is Tuesday, January 28, 2025. But Mr Sunak previously told journalists the vote would be held this year.

Admitting he “hated the futility of opposition”, Mr Starmer said he is ready for the opportunity to lead the country.

“I've been working for this for four years, working for the chance to tilt this country firmly and decisively back towards the interests of working people. It's been a long, hard slog and I won't lie,” he said.

He promised a new plan with new priorities, five national missions which he said would “sweep away the era of Tory division”.

“A plan for the long term, with higher growth, a reformed planning system, no longer blocking the homes, infrastructure and investment we need,” he said.

“Safer streets, more police in your town, cracking down on antisocial behaviour,” the Labour leader added.

Keir Starmer through the years – in pictures

Mr Starmer said he would get the NHS back on its feet, “with a plan to cut the waiting lists paid for by removing the non dom tax status”.

“Two million more appointments every year in an NHS clearing the backlog seven days a week,” he added.

Ahead of the speech, the Conservatives sought to suggest Mr Starmer was prone to reversing decisions.

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said: “Nothing is more cynical and populist than a weathervane Labour leader who has a consistent track record of telling people whatever he thinks they want to hear on any given day.

“He was for a second Brexit referendum, then he wasn't. He told Labour members when he was running to be leader he would nationalise industry and scrap tuition fees, but then dropped these policies as soon as the contest was over. And he says he opposes Jeremy Corbyn now, despite campaigning twice to make him prime minister and calling him his 'friend'.

“The only thing we know for certain about Keir Starmer is that he has a £28 billion black hole in his spending promises which will mean thousands of pounds of tax rises every year for families.”

Updated: January 04, 2024, 5:40 PM