Rishi Sunak announces 4 July general election

Rishi Sunak has ended months of speculation and finally announced the date of the next general election: 4 July.

Standing on the steps of No 10 in the pouring rain, the prime minister revealed he had been to see the King to dissolve parliament.

But the long-awaited moment descended into farce as Mr Sunak struggled to be heard as protesters outside Downing Street blasted out Tony Blair’s 1997 victory anthem, “Things Can Only Get Better”.

In contrast, Sir Keir Starmer presented a calm front as he stood indoors to promise stability and an end to Tory chaos.

Pollster Sir John Curtice predicted the contest was Labour’s to lose, and said the prime minister was “either very brave or extremely foolhardy” to call the election sooner than expected.

Mr Sunak’s announcement caught Westminster by surprise, with foreign secretary David Cameron called back from an overseas trip to Albania and defence secretary Grant Shapps also forced to cancel plans.

Cabinet ministers were summoned at 4pm and the prime minister stepped outside an hour later, using the morning’s inflation figures as a springboard to promise a flourishing economy.

Using the slogan “clear plan, bold action, secure future”, the prime minister used his actions as chancellor during the Covid crisis as the backdrop for his achievements in office.

He referenced the war in Ukraine but insisted his plan to restore economic stability was working with inflation “back to normal” and the country’s economy growing faster than France, Germany and Italy.

“I have stuck with the plan and always been honest with you even when it was difficult,” he shouted over the music. “The question now is how and who do you trust to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family and our country.”

Rishi Sunak’s announcement caught Westminster by surprise (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak’s announcement caught Westminster by surprise (PA Wire)

Turning to Labour, he said: “On 5 July, either Sir Keir Starmer or I will be prime minister. He has shown time and time again that he will take the easy way out and do anything to get power.

“If he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won’t do exactly the same thing if he were to become prime minister?

“If you don’t have the conviction to stick to anything you say, if you don’t have the courage to tell people what you want to do and if you don’t have a plan, how can you possibly be trusted to lead our country, especially at this most uncertain of times?”

Sir Keir responded by posting a video on social media saying: “It is time for change. Britain is a great and proud country. But under 14 years under the Tories nothing seems to work anymore.

“Public services crumbling, families weighed down by higher mortgage rates, antisocial behaviour on our high streets. The list goes on and on.”

Addressing the change in his party since Jeremy Corbyn, he insisted: “The Labour Party has changed. we are reconnected to our purpose to serve working people as you drive our country forward with economic stability at the forefront of everything.”

Parliament will be prorogued on Friday, the new parliament will be summoned on 9 July and state opening will take place on 17 July.

Current polling predicts a Labour landslide, as Sir Keir Starmer’s party sits around 20-points ahead in opinion polls. More than 60 Conservative MPs have said they will stand down at the next general election, including former prime minister Theresa May.

Pollsters predict Labour will win the July election by a landslide (PA Wire)
Pollsters predict Labour will win the July election by a landslide (PA Wire)

Mr Sunak has struggled to maintain unity with his colleagues amid five years of economic and party chaos and several were furious at the sudden election announcement.

With recess cancelled, one senior backbencher said: "This is utter madness. The Tory party is not ready, MPs are not ready. We need a break. This was the last chance for many to have a proper holiday.

"It shows that the PM does not give a s*** about backbenchers. I am not sure the party is ready yet to fight this election anyway."

There had been signs last week that an early election could be in the offing when Mr Sunak seemed to fire the gun on a long campaign with his speech at Policy Exchange focused on defence.

Later in the week, Sir Keir had his own soft launch with a rally in Essex to unveil a six-point pledge card.

David Cameron cut short his trip to Albania to be back in the UK for a 4pm cabinet meeting (AP)
David Cameron cut short his trip to Albania to be back in the UK for a 4pm cabinet meeting (AP)

Mr Sunak became prime minister in October 2022 following the removal of his predecessor, Liz Truss, after just 49 days in power.

Before Ms Truss, the leadership was held by Boris Johnson, whose authority was undermined by a string of Partygate scandals, prompting his resignation.

He won the 2019 general election with a sweeping majority of 80 seats – though a string of by-election defeats has since dented it.