Sunak Repeats 2024 ‘Second Half’ Line as Vote Rumors Swirl

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak repeated his line that a UK election will be held “in the second half of this year,” amid another round of speculation in Westminster that the prime minister will call an earlier-than-expected vote in the summer.

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In the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Sunak was asked directly about the rumors. “Spoiler alert, there is going to be a general election in the second half of this year,” the premier replied.

Speculation about election timing has dominated Westminster in recent weeks, but it stepped up a gear on Wednesday after data showed inflation dropped to 2.3% — close to the Bank of England’s target. Curbing prices is one of Sunak’s key pledges he wants voters to judge him by.

Sunak’s Conservative Party trails Keir Starmer’s Labour by about 20 points in opinion polls, fueling a sense in British politics that events are on hold until voters have been given their say. That has heightened the focus on potential trigger points, such as economic data, that might prompt Sunak to call the vote.

The shift of Sunak’s weekly cabinet meeting to the rare slot on Wednesday afternoon has added to the rumors, though the prime minister was in Vienna on Tuesday when Sunak’s top team normally gathers.

Ministers were told to attend the cabinet meeting in person, according to people familiar with the matter. Aides to some ministers said they were working on the assumption that an announcement is coming relating to an election, though they also cautioned that they weren’t aware of specifics.

When asked at a regular briefing whether Sunak is about to call an election, his political press secretary Lucy Noakes said she wasn’t going to rule anything in or out. She also declined to comment on speculation about a cabinet reshuffle — which is the alternative rumor swirling about Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

Regardless of the Westminster chatter, Sunak had been widely expected to wait to the autumn for an election — the deadline is the end of January — to allow time for the cost-of-living crisis to recede before Britons cast their ballots.

--With assistance from Stuart Biggs and Alex Wickham.

(Updates with aides expect an election announcement in sixth paragraph.)

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