Sunak signals UK election will be held in autumn

Prime minister plays down prospect of May vote, saying his ‘working assumption’ is for second half of 2024

Rishi Sunak has signalled that Britain’s general election will take place in the autumn, saying his “working assumption” was that the UK would go to the polls in the “second half of this year”.

Labour shadow ministers have been playing up the idea of a May election, which they have called the “worst kept secret in parliament”. But many Tory MPs saw this as a ruse to allow the opposition to accuse the British prime minister of taking fright if the poll was held later in the year.

The Liberal Democrats have 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.

However, during a visit to a youth centre in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, on Thursday, Mr Sunak told broadcasters: “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.” But he declined to categorically rule out a vote in May.


The law requires an election to be called at least once every five years, which means it must be held by January 2025.

Mr Sunak first confirmed in December that he would hold the general election in 2024 and with his Conservatives trailing Labour by an average of 18 points in the polls there has been an assumption in Westminster that he would wait until the autumn to give more time for the economy to improve. Yet the recent decision to hold the spring budget on March 6th left open the possibility of a May election.

“All we have learned today is that our unelected prime minister has yet again bottled holding the election,” said Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator. He added: “He needs to stop hiding, stop being so weak, stop squatting in Number 10 without a mandate.”

Mr Sunak also used the event on Thursday to hint at future tax cuts and to criticise Labour’s plans to borrow billions for green infrastructure spending. “We want to keep managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes and I want to keep tackling illegal migration,” he said.

The prime minister was speaking exactly one year after he declared his five pledges to the British people: halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing national debt, cutting NHS waiting lists and stopping small boats.

Only one of these has been met: the inflation rate fell from 10.7 per cent to 3.9 per cent in November.

The government’s plan to reduce the number of boats crossing the channel by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be processed was blocked by the supreme court late last year. Mr Sunak said on Thursday that he still wanted to get the scheme “through parliament and up and running”.

When parliament returns next week the Lib Dems will put forward a Bill to reinstate the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which required a general election to be held on the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the last polling day. The attempt to bring back the legislation, which was repealed less than two year ago, is expected to be blocked by the Conservative party’s Commons majority. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024

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