'Nothing has changed': Sunak quashes speculation of May general election

Rishi Sunak has appeared to quash lingering speculation of a May general election - saying "nothing has changed" since he last indicated it will happen in the autumn.

The prime minister told reporters in January that his "working assumption" is that voters will go to the polls in "the second half of this year".

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However, he did not rule out a May election categorically, prompting speculation he was keeping the option up his sleeve.

Some pundits argued Mr Sunak could go to the polls early if the spring budget on Wednesday contained enough giveaways - but the lack of radical measures cooled such talk.

Mr Sunak further poured cold water on suggestions of a May election on Thursday.

When asked about the date of the election by BBC Local Radio in Yorkshire, Mr Sunak said: "I was very clear about this at the beginning of the year about my working assumption for the election being in the second half of the year - nothing has changed since then."

The prime minister also said the focus on the election date is from the Labour Party to "distract from the fact that actually they don't want to talk about the substance".

However, Labour's national campaign manager Pat McFadden hit back: "Rishi Sunak should stop squatting in Downing Street and give the country what it desperately needs - a chance for change.

"The prime minister needs to finally come clean with the public and name the date of an election now."

Technically, Mr Sunak can wait until December before calling an election, meaning voters would then cast their ballots in January 2025.

Sky News has spoken to pollsters about the factors he will be weighing up in making the decision.

With the Tory party 20 points behind in the polls, the prevailing assumption is that he will wait as long as possible to make up ground against Labour.

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However there has been a lingering theory that he could go in May to avoid things getting worse - especially if there was a package of tax cuts in the spring budget that would make voters happy, or if the stalled Rwanda plan got off the ground.

The government has said it is focused on Rwanda flights taking off "in the spring."

Meanwhile, in Wednesday's budget, national income tax was cut by a further 2p, on top of the 2p already cut in the autumn statement. But some Tory MPs said this was not enough to win over voters looking elsewhere.

While the measure will save the average worker around £900, the overall tax burden is still set to rise by record levels because of freezes to tax thresholds.

Among the critics was the former home secretary, Suella Braverman, who told Sky News the budget "lacked something vivid to tell the British people we're on their side", saying that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt should have cut income tax.

She said that her party is in a "dire position" with some "very good MPs" likely to lose their seats.

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Sunak 'would be nuts' to call election in May

Mr Hunt has left the door open for more pre-election giveaways, telling Times Radio "theoretically it would be possible " to have another fiscal event if there is an election in autumn.

Speaking on his podcast Political Currency, former Tory chancellor George Osborne said if he was prime minister he would consider going to the polls as late as possible, in January 2025.

He said there are "a surprising number of Tory MPs" who think Downing Street is considering a May election "because they think things will only get worse".

But he said in his opinion that "would be absolutely nuts".

"You do not call a general election when you're 26 points behind and you still have nine months left of your mandate to run," Mr Osborne said.

"If I was Sunak, I wouldn't be ruling out an election in January 2025. You want to give yourself maximum room for manoeuvre. "