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The Palace of Westminster in London. Alamy Stock Photo
Downing Street

Rishi Sunak just called a July general election in the UK, but why now?

Sunak had promised in January to hold an election in the second half of this year.

UK PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has just announced the country will go to the polls in a general election vote on 4 July, but with the Conservatives lagging so far behind in the polls, why has he chosen to call it now, especially when he doesn’t have to do so until January next year?

In truth, that’s only a question Sunak himself and some of his closest advisors can answer.

As broadcaster and former political editor of the New Statesman Steve Richards noted: “No previous PM has called an election so far behind in the polls..and earlier than necessary.”

There had been swirling speculation around Westminster ahead of this afternoon’s press conference in front of 10 Downing Street, where Sunak was drenched by a downpour of rain. 

The SNP’s Stephen Flynn used his time in parliament today to ask the question on everyone’s lips, “Does the prime minister intend to call a summer general election or is he feart (scared)?”

Adding to this mounting intrigue over the possibility of such an announcement was the arrival of Foreign Secretary David Cameron in London today, having cut short a trip to Albania.  

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.

BBC Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt posted on X this afternoon, saying he was “rather losing count of the number of ministers asking me what is happening with their government”.

“One described an imminent general election as ‘weird’. They asked: why do it before the flights have taken off for Rwanda?”

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.

The plan has been fraught with difficulties from its inception, including being struck down in the UK courts and passed back and forth between the houses of Lords and Commons. 

Similarly, Sunak’s pledge to stop small boat crossings from France has not been as successful as he promised.

Some in the UK have posited that he may be attempting to head off the criticism that would come if the Rwanda plan doesn’t literally get off the ground, while others speculate he wants the first flight to Rwanda to take off just before the country goes to the polls. 

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