Sunak insists Tories can still win election after minister admits party could lose

Rishi Sunak has insisted the Tories can still win the general election after one of his closest allies said a victory for the party is unlikely.

The prime minister tried to inject optimism into his campaign after Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said that to claim the Conservatives are on course for a win would be to "try and pretend black is white".

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Labour has an average 20-point lead in the polls - on 41% - ahead of the Tories on 21% and Reform on 15%.

Speaking during a visit to a Centrica gas rig, Mr Sunak said: "There's still two-and-a-half weeks to go in this election, I'm fighting hard for every vote because I believe we can win.

"And there's a very clear choice at this election - it's having your taxes cut by the Conservatives or facing significant tax rises with the Labour Party".

Labour have repeatedly said they won't raise key taxes if they get into government - but Mr Sunak has doubled down on that attack line regardless.

Asked if he understands people's frustrations with the Conservative Party, with some voters deciding to turn to Reform UK, he replied: "Of course I understand people's frustrations with that - I mean that's undeniable, and I've been very clear that we have made progress, but there is more to go.

"But the point now is we are on the right track and this election is about the future."

Mr Shapps earlier told Times Radio it is "possible to win the election", but conceded it is "not the most likely outcome".

Asked if a Tory victory is unlikely, he replied: "I think that's the realistic position, isn't it? I mean, I live in the real world. So, you know, let's not try and pretend black is white."

The Conservatives were already lagging well behind Labour when Mr Sunak called the election - and they have struggled to make up ground since, with polls projecting a historic majority for Sir Keir Starmer of nearly 200 seats.

The Tories also face a threat from the right after Nigel Farage announced his shock return to frontline politics as the leader of Reform UK.

His party last week overtook the Conservatives for the first time in a single YouGov poll for The Times, though the Tories are currently an average of seven points ahead of Reform.

Mr Farage today acknowledged Reform UK will not form a government after 4 July - but said the general election campaign is the first step on the path to a potential win at the next contest in 2029.

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Speaking at the launch of his party's "contract" with voters, Mr Farage said: "Our ambition is to establish a bridgehead in Parliament, and to become a real opposition to a Labour government."

He said the Tories would not be able to provide opposition because "they spend most of their days arguing among themselves, and they're split down the middle when it comes to policy".

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Reform's headline offer to voters is a four-point plan to cut back on immigration, which includes leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and returning migrants who come over in boats to France.

Mr Sunak has repeatedly said a vote for Mr Farage's party amounted to handing a "blank cheque" to Labour.