Home » Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May election

Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May election

by Marko Florentino
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Rishi Sunak refused to rule out a May general election on Thursday, prompting renewed speculation about when he is planning to trigger the vote.

The unveiling of new tax cuts, in the form of a 2p reduction in workers’ National Insurance, has contributed to debate about whether No 10 could be planning an early election.

Mr Sunak said, “I’m not going to say anything extra about that,” when pressed in one interview, though in another interview he blamed Labour for talking up an early election.

The decision to not categorically rule out the possibility of a spring rather than an autumn election – a position adopted all year – means the speculation could well run for weeks. 

However, many Tory MPs and government insiders not in Mr Sunak’s inner circle expect that autumn will ultimately be selected, which is an assumption widely shared in Westminster.

The centrality of an improving economy in the Tories’ election hopes is the most commonly noted argument for why waiting until later in the year makes political sense for Mr Sunak.

Inflation is forecast to fall below the 2 per cent Bank of England target within months. The time also allows for new tax cuts to have an impact, and economic growth is set to pick up a little.

Tory prospects ‘could worsen’

Some prominent Tory voices have floated an early election by arguing that the Conservatives’ political prospects could worsen throughout the year.

In 2017, Theresa May repeatedly rejected claims she could hold a snap election, only to shock Westminster by calling one for that June, a reminder of how closely such plans are kept.

The decision about when to call the election rests with the Prime Minister. It must be held by January 2025 at the latest, but Mr Sunak can pick the date before then.

At the start of the year, Mr Sunak said that he was expecting the vote in the second half of the year. He has stuck to the position for months.

Asked by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 whether there would be an election in May, the Prime Minister laughed and said: “I’m not going to say anything extra about that.

“What I would say is what matters is the choice at that election, and the choice, especially after this Budget, is clear. 

“Our plans are working. Of course there’s more work to do, we are starting to deliver the change that people want to see and if we stick with that plan people can have the peace of mind that there is a brighter future for them and their families.”

Focus on election time ‘from Labour Party’

He later hardened his language after the failure to rule out a May election made headlines, with the Prime Minister claiming Labour was elevating the idea.

Mr Sunak told BBC Radio Leeds: “I was very clear about this at the beginning of the year about my working assumption for the election being in the second half of the year. Nothing’s changed since then.

“But again, there’s a lot of focus on this from the Labour Party more than anything else to distract from the fact that actually they don’t want to talk about the substance.”

The second set of remarks, however, did not amount to ruling out a May election. Downing Street sources believe Labour is deliberately talking up the possibility of a May election so that it can claim the Prime Minister “bottled it” if he waits until the autumn. 

If a spring general election was triggered it is widely expected it would be held on May 2, which is when the country is already going to the polls for the local elections.

A summer election is not seen as likely in Westminster since that is when many people take holidays, potentially complicating efforts to turn out voters.

An autumn election would likely see the vote being held in October or November.

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