Rishi Sunak has confirmed the next general election will be in 2024 – ruling out the prospect of a January 2025 contest.
The prime minister told a gathering of journalists in Downing Street that the UK will go to the polls next year, putting Westminster on an election war-footing.
The latest date an election can be held under current rules is January 2025, and with the Tories trailing Labour by around 20 points in the polls it was rumoured Mr Sunak would cling on and hope for a turnaround.
But the PM has set the stage for a showdown with Sir Keir Starmer, who has led Labour to the cusp of power four years after its worst defeat since 1935 under his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
An election is now expected in the autumn, although there is speculation one could be held as soon as next spring.
Mr Sunak’s announcement comes amid a gloomy backdrop, with the PM warned he faces a “collapse” on the scale of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.
Britain’s top pollster Professor Sir John Curtice told The Independent on Sunday that the PM faces a “very bleak situation”. The Conservatives could lose as many as 220 of their current total of 350 MPs in the election due next year, he claimed.
“Sunak as a personality has failed to bring up his party,” Sir John told The Independent.
Mr Sunak has also failed to deliver on four of the five key pledges to the public he set out in January.
He promised to halve inflation, stop small boats crossing the channel, grow the economy, reduce the national debt and cut NHS waiting lists.
Inflation has fallen from over 10 per cent at the start of this year to 4.6 per cent, still more than double the Bank of England’s target.
But the PM’s other four pledges have floundered, including his promise to “stop the boats”.
And he enters the new year braced for a fresh bout of Tory infighting over his beleaguered Rwanda deportation plan, which has split the party’s right and centrist wings.
In a bid to revive the scheme, after it was struck down by the Supreme Court, Mr Sunak is seeking to pass an emergency bill to deem the east African country a safe place to deport refugees.
The PM won a crunch vote on the bill this month, but faces another battle with his MPs within weeks, with rebels on the Tory right and left threatening to scupper his plans.
Prof Curtice also warned that Mr Sunak faces electoral oblivion even if his Rwanda policy gets off the ground.
Asked if the Tories would do better in the election if the PM manages to start sending migrants to Rwanda, the polling guru said: “The short answer is no. Yes, some core voters are upset (about immigration). But it’s not the core vote you need to win back – it’s those who are saying they won’t vote Conservative.”
Mr Sunak had blundered by not focusing on the economy and the NHS, he argued. “People are asking two main questions: ‘Can I afford to feed my kids?’ and, ‘If I fall ill, will the NHS look after me?’
“Unless they come up with better answers, this government will struggle politically,” said Sir John, who is renowned for his near 100 per cent accurate predictions on polling day.
William Turner is a seasoned U.K. correspondent with a deep understanding of domestic affairs. With a passion for British politics and culture, he provides insightful analysis and comprehensive coverage of events within the United Kingdom.