Grant Shapps says PM should be able to ‘get on with the job’ as election speculation swirls

Defence secretary says MPs must give the Rishi Sunak space

Archie Mitchell
Saturday 27 April 2024 18:55 BST
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Rishi Sunak says he hasn't decided when general election will be

Grant Shapps has warned agitating Tory MPs against ousting Rishi Sunak and said the prime minister should be left to “get on with the job” – amid speculation the PM could announce an election next week.

The defence secretary said Mr Sunak should be “given the space” to do his job. “He’s doing a great job – he’s doing it under difficult circumstances,” said Mr Shapps.

“There was never an instruction book to get these difficult things [done] and actually steer us through a difficult course.”

Multiple No 10 sources have played down claims that the prime minster may call an election as early as Monday, pointing to Mr Sunak’s repeated insistence that a vote will take place in the second half of this year.

Speculation is mounting the PM will announce the election date on Monday
Speculation is mounting the PM will announce the election date on Monday (Getty Images)

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries was among those suggesting the PM would call an election next week. “I’m putting the odds of a general election being called tomorrow or next week at 50 per cent,” she said.

Sir Tony Blair’s Downing Street communications chief, Alastair Campbell, also pointed to “mega election rumours”. While the founder of Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie, said: “Rumours of an election announcement on Monday are hitting 1000mph.

“If they are false, and Downing Street doesn’t reject them soon, the No 10 operators risk looking like bottlers.”

Rumours have gone into overdrive ahead of the 2 May local elections which are set to see the Tories lose hundreds of local council seats.

Mr Sunak has been warned he could face an attempt to replace him if Tory mayors Ben Houchen and Andy Street – the party’s most high-profile figures outside Westminster – lose their seats.

Both contests, in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, are neck and neck, despite the pair winning significant majorities in 2021.

Conservatives fear Ben Houchen could be defeated in next week’s Tees Valley mayoral contest
Conservatives fear Ben Houchen could be defeated in next week’s Tees Valley mayoral contest (Ian Forsyth/PA Wire)

The rumours appear to have been fuelled in part by Labour Party figures suggesting the PM could name the election date to put an end to speculation about his plans.

But in an interview with The Times, Mr Shapps said: “Let him get on with the job.

“We are into the growth phase now for the economy, inflation is back under control, [and we are] able to do things like the 2.5 per cent [defence-spending increase].

“We just need to actually give the prime minister space to get on with the job.”

Mr Sunak this week refused to rule out a July election after his Rwanda deportation bill finally cleared parliament.

Rishi Sunak has moved to end the parliamentary deadlock over his Rwanda Bill which will pave the way for deportation flights to get off the ground once it becomes law
Rishi Sunak has moved to end the parliamentary deadlock over his Rwanda Bill which will pave the way for deportation flights to get off the ground once it becomes law (PA Wire)

He told reporters: “All I’m going to say is the same thing I say every time, as I said in the first week of January, my working assumption is an election in the second half of the year.”

It is still widely expected that the country will go to the polls in October or November, but a July vote would help Mr Sunak avoid a surge in small boat Channel crossings over the summer.

It would also let the Conservatives point to the Rwanda scheme, which will see a small number of asylum seekers deported to the east African nation, as evidence they are taking action to “stop the boats”.

Mr Sunak has repeatedly refused to clarify when the general election will be, promising only to hold it in the second half of 2024. The latest possible date for an election is 28 January 2025, meaning the PM could delay the vote for a further eight months.

He was already been accused of being a “chicken” and “squatting in Downing Street” after ruling out holding the election on 2 May, when voters will go to the polls for local elections across the country.

The growing speculation comes as the Conservatives sit 21 points behind in the opinion polls. A series of polls have shown the party is heading for electoral oblivion, with even Mr Sunak at risk of losing his seat.

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