Rishi Sunak keeps July election on the table after Rwanda bill passes

The prime minister was grilled about whether he would hold a summer election to capitalise on the scheme coming into effect

Archie Mitchell
Tuesday 23 April 2024 20:14 BST
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Rishi Sunak says he hasn't decided when general election will be

Rishi Sunak has refused to rule out a July general election amid speculation he could go to the polls as the first Rwanda flights take off.

The day after his deportation bill finally cleared parliament, the prime minister was grilled about whether he would hold a summer election to capitalise on the scheme coming into effect.

But, keeping the door open to a July contest, Mr Sunak 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 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.

Mr Sunak was quizzed about his election plans on a flight to Poland
Mr Sunak was quizzed about his election plans on a flight to Poland (Alastair Grant/PA Wire)

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 Mr Sunak could delay the vote for a further eight months.

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

His latest refusal to clarify when the general election will be comes as the Conservatives sit 21 points behind in the polls. A series of polls have shown the party is heading for electoral oblivion, with even Mr Sunak at risk of losing his seat.

The latest Ipsos poll showed support for the Conservatives has fallen to its lowest level in 45 years.

The Rwanda bill has finally cleared parliament, with the PM promising flights in 10-12 weeks
The Rwanda bill has finally cleared parliament, with the PM promising flights in 10-12 weeks (PA Wire)

The pollster found the Tories on just 19 per cent – a record low for the second consecutive month – with Labour leading by 25 points on 44 per cent.

And in a further blow for Mr Sunak, his personal approval ratings are now at the worst level in the history of Ipsos polling – equivalent only to John Major in 1994 and Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

The PM could also be forced into a summer election if the Conservatives fare worse than expected in the local elections.

The party is set to lose hundreds of seats on local councils but all eyes will be on the two high-profile Tory mayors Ben Houchen and Andy Street.

Ben Houchen is seen as a poster boy for the Conservatives in the red-wall constituencies
Ben Houchen is seen as a poster boy for the Conservatives in the red-wall constituencies (Getty)

The two were elected to the Tees Valley and West Midlands mayoralties respectively with significant majorities and are the most powerful Conservative figures outside Westminster.

If the pair are ousted, with polls showing both races near neck and neck, Mr Sunak will come under renewed pressure from backbench MPs and could even face a leadership challenge.

It is thought that Mr Sunak could call an election to avoid a challenge to his leadership.

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