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As it Happened: The UK reacts as Rishi Sunak calls a general election for 4 July

Sunak surprised Westminster by calling the election earlier than had been widely expected.


BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has called a general election for 4 July.

Speaking outside Downing Street, Sunak said that the election “will take place at time when the world is more dangerous than it has been since the end of the Cold War”.

The “uncertain times” call for a “clear plan”, he said.

Labour reacted immediately, with leader Keir Starmer releasing a slickly edited video calling for change.

Other parties in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales also had their say. 

Reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald and Hayley Halpin

No 10 has said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will make a statement in Downing Street at 5pm, where he is expected to name the summer polling date.

Speculation about an announcement mounted in Westminster as Cabinet ministers were summoned for an unusually timed meeting, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Foreign Secretary David Cameron cutting short foreign trips to attend.

Sunak is is reported to be informing ministers this afternoon of the election plan at the gathering.

The expected announcement comes after Sunak earlier today declared inflation was “back to normal” in a “major milestone” for the country, following official figures showing inflation slowed to 2.3% in April.

A lectern has been placed in front of Number 1 ahead of the statement by Sunak.

Rishi Sunak has just begun speaking. 

Stay tuned for updates. 

Sunak has confirmed a general election will take place on 4 July. 

Flurry of meetings in No.10 put Labour party on notice, but winter election date was expected

A Labour party source has told The Journal that knowledge of a flurry of meetings being held in No.10 2-3 weeks ago had put the opposition on notice, but the stronger expectation was that Sunak would be announcing a winter election, likely in November time.

“There was an expectation that they’d opt for a time when turnout would be lowest for us, though. So although there’s some surprise at a July election, Labour is ready for it”, they further said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has yet to react to reports that Sunak is likely to announce that the UK’s next general election will take place on July 4.

Sunak’s speech is currently underway.

SUNAK2 Rishi Sunak speaking outside Downing Street

Sunak vowed he has “never and will never leave the people of this country to face the darkest of days alone” as he began his statement in Downing Street.

He began his address by reflecting on the Covid pandemic.

“In the last five years our country has fought through the most challenging times since the Second World War,” he said. 

“As I stand here as your Prime Minister, I can’t help but reflect that my first proper introduction to you was just over four years ago. I stood behind one of the podiums upstairs in the building behind me.

“I told you that we faced a generation-defining moment and that we as a society could not be judged by some Government action, but by the small acts of kindness we showed one another.

“You met that challenge and then some, and I had never been prouder to be British.”

Loud chants from protesters could be heard in the background as Sunak delivered his speech outside Number 10. 

Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream was also being played loudly. 

DReamOfficialVEVO / YouTube

Announcing the general election, Sunak said: “This hard earned economic stability was only ever meant to be the beginning, 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?

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future, to decide whether we want to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one with no plan and no certainty.

“Earlier today I spoke with His Majesty the King to request the dissolution of Parliament.

“The King has granted this request and we will have a general election on 4 July.”

Sunak concluded his election announcement by saying he will “fight for every vote” and prove to voters that only a Conservative government led by him will “deliver a secure future” for the UK.

During his speech, Sunak hit out at the Labour Party and Keir Starmer, saying they lacked a plan for the country.

“I hope that my work since I became Prime Minister shows that we have a plan and are prepared to take bold action necessary for our country to flourish,” Sunak said. 

“Now, I have stuck with that plan and always been honest with you about what is needed, even when that’s been difficult, because I’m guided by doing what is right for our country, not what is easy,” he said. 

“I can’t say the same thing for the Labour Party, because I don’t know what they offer and, in truth, I don’t think you know either.

“And that’s because they have no plan, there is no bold action, and as a result the future can only be uncertain with them.”

Here’s some clips from Sunak’s speech: 

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has posted on X saying “bring it on” in the aftermath of Sunak’s speech.

Good evening, Cormac Fitzgerald here taking over for the evening after UK PM Rishi Sunak called a surprise election for 4 July.

Opposition leaders in the UK have been lining up to say they are battle ready and raring to go for the election.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has already posted a slickly edited campaign video on X. No way he turned that around in the last 20 minutes. 

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey said the election was a chance to “kick Rishi Sunak’s appalling Conservative Government out of office and deliver the change the public is crying out for”.

Carla Denyer, a Green Party candidate in Bristol Central, said:

“At last. This is the moment the country has been waiting for, the chance to vote for a different vision of what our country can be. We are urging voters to elect at least four Green MPs to Parliament.”

DUP leader Gavin Robinson said that polling they will give the people of Northern Ireland “a clear choice as to who they think is best placed to represent them and deliver the best outcomes for them”.

Robinson said that the lead unionist party in the North will use the campaign “to make the case that now more than ever is the time to strengthen the Unionist position – not divide and weaken it”.

“Over the next number of weeks, we will campaign and seek votes to strengthen the pro-Union position,” he said.

The DUP will be on the back foot, however, after it was confirmed today that former leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who is facing a series of historical sex offence charges, will not contest the general election.

However, the director of elections has insisted the party is ready for a General Election.

Speaking to the PA news agency at the National Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast, Gordon Lyons said: “We are ready with a message to take to people right across Northern Ireland about who is best to represent their needs and make a difference for them at Westminster.

Whatever about calling a sudden election while your poll numbers are way down less than a month after taking a serious hammering in the local elections, couldn’t the Tories have gotten an umbrella!?

Rishi Sunak was drenched as he made the announcement this evening, with no one coming out to cover the poor man’s head. 

Screenshot 2024-05-22 at 18.05.33

As my colleague Eimer McAuley points out, Sunak was also drowned out (eh?) by 90s banger ‘Things Can Only Get Better’:

“The song, by Derry band D:Ream, is associated with Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997. Sunak – who, like his 1990s predecessor John Major, is facing a likely electoral wipeout at the hands of Labour – is unlikely to have appreciated the interruption.

:As Sunak spoke directly to TV cameras, with rain drizzling down on him, the one-time campaign anthem could be clearly heard. An umbrella wouldn’t have gone amiss, but as he made his pitch to the UK public, his suit slick with rain, Sunak seemed undeterred.”

If you follow UK politics at all, you might be asking yourself: “But why now?”

It’s a fair question. As my colleague David MacRedmond writes, that’s only a question Sunak himself and some of his closest advisors can answer.

“Many in the British media, and indeed the Tory party, have questioned the decision in the buildup. The Conservatives are currently around 20 points behind Labour in the polls.

“Sunak had promised in January to hold an election in the second half of this year and today’s announced date in July means he’s just about kept that promise. 

“One possible explanation for today’s announcement is Sunak’s recent touting of economic success, namely a reduction in inflation which is at 2.3%. The thinking is that he can’t bank on this being the case later in the year.

“There is also speculation that he may be seeking a new mandate to push through some aspects of his government’s agenda, particularly the controversial Rwanda policy, which would see asylum seekers diverted there on a one-way trip.”

Still, calling a sudden summer election, in the rain, when your poll numbers are in the mud, doesn’t seems like the wisest of choices. But time will tell!

Well, the announcement has been made, the political reaction is in, so that’s that is the end of this liveblog.

There will be an election in the UK in six weeks. To paraphrase D:Ream, can things only get better? Tune in after 4 July to find out.

Includes reporting by Press Association

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