Tories hold seven-point lead over Labour as UK election begins

Boris Johnson to launch Conservative campaign with call on voters to get Britain out of its ‘rut’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit in Harlow, Essex, on Tuesday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit in Harlow, Essex, on Tuesday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

Boris Johnson will launch the Conservative general election campaign on Wednesday with a warning that a vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party could put Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street. At an event in the West Midlands, a key electoral battleground, the British prime minister will blame a “blockading parliament” for forcing him into an early election next month.

“It’s time to change the dismal pattern of the last three years and to get out of our rut. It’s time to end this debilitating delay. Let’s go with this Conservative government, get Brexit done, and unleash the potential of our great country – delivering on the public’s priorities of our NHS, crime and the cost of living,” he is expected to say.

“Meanwhile the alternative is clear – Jeremy Corbyn and his two favourite advisers, Dither and Delay, turning 2020 into the year of two miserable referendums, one on the EU, and another on Scotland. And remember that a vote for any other minor party is effectively a vote for Corbyn, and his catastrophic political and economic programme.”

[London editor Denis Staunton talks to foreign editor Chris Dooley about the early state of the UK general election and the challenges facing each party in a tense race. To listen, click here]

Mr Johnson is expected to meet Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday before announcing the formal start of the five-week general election campaign. An ICM poll for Reuters on Tuesday put the Conservatives on 38 per cent, seven points ahead of Labour’s 31 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent and the Brexit Party on 9 per cent.

Mr Corbyn on Tuesday defended Labour’s position on Brexit, promising to negotiate a new deal with the EU based on a customs union and regulatory alignment with the single market. He would put that deal to a referendum within six months of taking office, with remaining in the EU as the other option on the ballot paper.

“People sometimes accuse me of trying to talk to both sides at once in the Brexit debate; to people who voted leave and remain. You know what? They’re right. Why would I only want to talk to half the country? I don’t want to live in half a country,” he said.

“It’s Labour that’s determined to bring a divided country together. You can’t do that if your whole political strategy is to turn one side of the Brexit debate against the other. The Tories are offering an extreme and damaging form of Brexit while the Liberal Democrats want to ignore the result of the 2016 referendum and revoke Article 50.”

Standing down

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson “categorically” ruled out helping to put Mr Corbyn into Downing Street, asserting that the Labour leader was not fit to be prime minister. But the party’s foreign affairs spokesman Chuka Umunna later suggested that the Liberal Democrats could be open to a post-election deal with the Conservatives or with Labour under a different leader.

“The two main parties as currently configured are not fit for office. We are going out to be the biggest party in the House of Commons. It’s up to people to decide what happens after that,” he said.

Dozens of MPs are standing down ahead of next month’s election, including Philip Hammond, who was chancellor of the exchequer until July but lost the Conservative whip after he voted against the government to block a no-deal Brexit. In a letter to his Runnymede and Weybridge constituents, Mr Hammond said he could not stand as a Conservative because he had not had the whip restored and that he did not wish to sever his ties to the party by standing as an Independent.

“I am saddened to find myself in this position after 45 years of Conservative party membership, 22 years’ service as a Conservative MP, 12 years as an opposition front bench spokesman and over nine years as a cabinet minister,” he said.