Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out July election after Rwanda bill passes

23 April 2024, 14:18 | Updated: 23 April 2024, 14:28

Rishi Sunak says the election will take place in the second half of the year
Rishi Sunak says the election will take place in the second half of the year. Picture: Getty

By Will Conroy

Rishi Sunak refused to rule out a July general election as speculation continues over when he will go to the polls, the day after his Rwanda bill was passed by parliament.

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Speaking to reporters while flying to Poland, the Prime Minister repeated his previous message that he expects the election to take place in the second half of the year.

It is still largely expected the election will occur in October or November while Mr Sunak confirmed in March it would not be held alongside the May 2 local elections.

When pressed on a possible July election, Mr Sunak said: “Every time you guys say that - and when I was chancellor and you would put all these ‘oh are you going to do this tax cut or this tax cut’.

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

The latest date the election could take place is 28 January 2025, meaning Mr Sunak could hold out for a further eight months.

The Prime Minister’s flagship Rwanda bill was passed on Monday after he announced the first flights deporting asylum seekers to the country would take off in 10 to 12 weeks.

Despite this estimation, he did not directly commit to whether a flight would take off before the general election, which further raises the question of whether he is leaning towards a July election.

When asked if he could commit to this, he said: “I’ve been very clear from the beginning of the year, my working assumption is for an election in the second half of the year and I would reiterate that.

“As I said on flights yesterday, 10-12 weeks, that’s what we’re working towards for all the reasons that I outlined yesterday.”

Read more: Five migrants die trying to cross the Channel hours after Sunak's flagship Rwanda bill clears Lords

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This time-frame means Mr Sunak’s expectation is for a flight to depart in the first two weeks of July and some Labour strategists think a deportation flight could be a key feature of a summer election campaign.

Another Labour theory is that the flights will not act as a significant deterrent to asylum seekers and Mr Sunak will look to hold an election before this is made evident.

A shadow cabinet member said: “If you’re desperate enough to get in a dinghy to cross the English Channel, I don’t think a 1 per cent chance of being deported to Rwanda will put you off.”

The Conservatives are 20.5 points behind Labour in the election opinion polls - an increase of 0.6 points since the spring budget on 6 March.

Mr Sunak’s advisors have expressed concern at the little change in the polls following the budget, with some suggesting this will lead him to taking his chances with an earlier election rather than waiting for the impact of the autumn budget.

A Downing Street source told The Times: “We all hoped that the national ­insurance cut in the budget would give us a lift in the polls but, of course, it didn’t.

“The PM has been pretty clear that he doesn’t think another cut will make any difference.”

Mr Sunak may also be forced into a summer election if the Conservatives perform poorly in the 2 May local elections. 

The Prime Minister has travelled to Poland to meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk with the UK set to provide Ukraine with an additional £500m in support.