June 24. 2024. 5:48

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UK Prime Minister Sunak calls an election six months early


Despite being well behind in the opinion polls, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called a UK general election for July 4. He has confounded speculation that he would hang until no more a few weeks short of the legal requirement to dissolve the Westminster parliament by the end of the year. He will now seek to confound predictions that he will lead the British Conservative Party to a landslide defeat, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

The one certainty was that Rishi Sunak’s request that King Charles dissolves Parliament would be granted. It will bring to an end one of the most consequential parliaments in recent British history, which began with a thumping victory for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson who had campaigned on a pledge to ‘get Brexit done’.

Years of crisis since the 2016 referendum were resolved by accepting a thin deal to leave the EU, with only Northern Ireland getting the closer relationship that Prime Minister Theresa May had sought. One of Sunak’s few political achievements was resolving the political fallout from the Northern Irish arrangements.

Significantly, he began his election announcement by recalling his achievements not as Prime Minister but as Johnson’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) when he borrowed record sums of money to get the UK through the Covid pandemic. He became Prime Minister after the short-lived Premiership of Liz Truss was ended by a financial and political revolt against her plans to borrow more.

That was driven by the ideology of Brexit, the belief the the UK could become a buccaneering, low tax economy, freed from the ‘shackles’ of Brussels. The Conservatives have become a different, far more idealogical, party than the one that came to power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats 14 years ago.

It is widely expected, including by me, that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, will be Prime Minister in July. But there’s a campaign to be fought, during which both men will try to avoid discussing future relations with the EU.

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We might have heard more from Sunak today. He kept it brief, not only standing in the pouring rain outside 10 Downing Street but struggling to be heard above loud music being played in Whitehall. The appalling optics of the Prime Minister getting soaked without an umbrella can be blamed on his Conservative Party advisers.

There might be a Labour tactician taking credit for the music: ‘Things can only get better’, the campaign theme of Tony Blair’s first election victory. Starmer needs an even bigger swing to Labour than Blair achieved but that is exactly what is expected.

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