Election campaign day one: Mess-up in a brewery as Sunak and Starmer trade blows

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer traded blows over immigration and the economy on Thursday as the first full day of campaigning for the July 4 General Election got under way.

The Prime Minister started in Derbyshire by hammering his message that the Tories have a “clear plan” for financial stability while Labour would go “back to square one.”

Meanwhile, Sir Keir kicked off Labour’s campaign in traditional Conservative heartlands at Gillingham Football Club, saying it was time to “turn the page” on Tory “chaos”.

Here are the key moments:

– Rwanda flights still (not) up in the air

General Election campaign 2024
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at Inverness Airport, Scotland, while on the General Election campaign trail (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak’s economy-focused pitch to voters, in which he highlighted his record as pandemic-era chancellor, was overshadowed by an admission that deportation planes to Kigali will not take off before the election.

Sir Keir accused him of calling an early vote to avoid the scheme, which has been grounded over a series of legal challenges, being tested.

The PM urged voters to back him at the polls if they want to see the policy succeed, which he insisted in an interview with LBC would provide an effective deterrent to Channel crossings.

– Mess-up in a brewery

Mr Sunak scored an own goal with a footballing gaffe as he met brewery staff in South Wales later in the day.

The Prime Minister asked the workers whether they were looking forward to the football later this summer, despite Wales not qualifying for the Euro 2024 tournament.

After being told the country is “not in it”, he insisted that nonetheless “it’ll be a good summer of sport”.

– Could the Tobacco and Vapes Bill go up in smoke?

General Election campaign 2024
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Gillingham Football club in Gillingham, Kent, while on the General Election campaign trail (Gareth Fuller/PA)

With Parliament due to be prorogued on Friday, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt laid out legislation that could be rushed through by MPs during a period known as “wash-up”.

But one notable omission was Mr Sunak’s flagship Tobacco and Vapes Bill, the fate of which had been widely seen as a test of his personal legacy. It was not mentioned among final business, meaning its future is uncertain.

However, victims of the infected blood scandal will receive compensation despite the upcoming General Election, the Government confirmed.

– Tory exodus latest

Deputy Commons Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing, rail minister Huw Merriman and employment ministers Jo Churchill became the latest high-profile Conservative MPs to announce they would not seek re-election. That makes 69 Tory MPs who have so far announced they will not seek re-election.

– Farage rules out candidacy

Reform UK, which is hoping to snap up votes from the Tory right, staged an event in London during which leader Richard Tice accused Mr Sunak of being “terrified” of the threat the party poses to the Conservatives.

But the party’s most high-profile member, honorary president Nigel Farage, said he would be focusing instead on getting Donald Trump re-elected rather than stand as an MP.

General Election campaign 2024
Leader of Reform UK Richard Tice speaking during a General Election campaign launch in Westminster (Lucy North/PA)

– Swinney claims ‘independence day’ in sight

Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney insisted he can lead the SNP to victory in an “independence day” General Election.

Labour is looking to win around 20 seats in north of the border to gain an overall Commons majority.

– Come rain or shine

General Election announcement
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, soaked by rain, walks back in to 10 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak defended his rain-soaked Downing Street statement, in which he announced the General Election in the midst of a downpour and without an umbrella, saying he was “not a fairweather politician” and believed in the tradition of a PM announcing a national vote outside Number 10.

– Picture of the day

General Election campaign 2024
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Teetotaller Mr Sunak watched beer being bottled at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, in Barry, south Wales.

– Quote of day

“Important though the general election is, the contest in the United States of America on November 5 has huge global significance. A strong America as a close ally is vital for our peace and security. I intend to help with the grassroots campaign in the USA in any way that I can” – Nigel Farage says he will focus on getting Donald Trump re-elected rather than stand as a Reform UK candidate in the July 4 General Election.

– What’s happening tomorrow?

General Election campaign 2024
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey on the General Election trail (Andrew Matthews/PA)

With the battle lines drawn on the economy and immigration and both Sir Keir and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey out and about in so-called blue wall areas, campaigning across the political spectrum will continue on Friday.

The PM will continue his two-day whistlestop tour of the four nations, the Labour leader will continue in the north of the UK and Sir Ed will be on the south coast.