23 May 2024

Why did Rishi Sunak call an early election?

Political Editor

A lot of Tory MPs have been asking – why the early election? Gary Gibbon asked Rishi Sunak exactly this at the beginning of his first day of campaigning in Nottingham.

Gary Gibbon: You announced the election against the backdrop of the inflation figures, you said it all proved the economic plan was working, so why not show off the economic plan a bit longer for a few more months? Bask in the glory of it. Why go early?

Rishi Sunak: I know there’s more work to do, and people are only just starting to feel the benefit of the change. But it is clear that our economic plan is working. Inflation is now back to normal, the economy is growing at a healthy rate, wages have been rising faster than prices for months in a row now, and energy bills are coming down. So the economic stability that I promised is now been delivered, and the question for the country is the future.

Gary Gibbon: You’re a prime minister with a majority, you could hang around longer. You could show people more of that plan in action. It’s just a bit fishy. It doesn’t quite add up. It suggests that you don’t think the plan is going to be delivering wonderful dividends by the autumn, when you could have an election.

‘Plan is working’

Rishi Sunak: Here is the track record of the last 18 months when it comes to the economy. Inflation, when I became prime minister, was running at around 11%. It’s now back to normal, just over 2%. Wages have been rising faster than prices for almost a year. Energy bills have fallen by almost £500. The economy at the start of this year was growing faster than pretty much all of our major competitors, and whilst I know it will take time for people to feel the benefits of all of that, it’s clear that that plan is working. I stuck to it even when it was difficult, and that’s what leadership is about.

Gary Gibbon: You say you’ve got a plan on immigration, but if I understand you from earlier interviews today, you don’t think a flight will take off before the general election. Nobody’s going to get the chance to test that policy, which you’ve brought in – the Rwanda flights – and test whether it works, see whether it works. You’re going to the electorate before it’s been tested again. Bit fishy.

Rishi Sunak: Immigration is an important issue in this election.

Gary Gibbon: You could wait.

Rishi Sunak: The security of our borders is important.

Gary Gibbon: Why not wait?

Rishi Sunak: Let’s just look at what we’ve done when it comes to legal migration.

Gary Gibbon: No, I’m not asking you that. Why not wait for the flights to take off, let people see whether they have an impact, a deterrent impact, creeping into the numbers crossing the Channel?

Rishi Sunak: So just answer the question . On migration, legal migration, the numbers are too high. I’ve said that I’ll bring them down. They’re already down by a quarter this year. That shows that the plan is working.

Gary Gibbon: That’s not answering the question.

Rishi Sunak: When it comes to illegal migration, we’ve put all the plans in place to get flights off to Rwanda in July. We’ve detained people, we’ve hired the case workers, we’ve booked the airfield, the flights are ready, all of that is done.

Gary Gibbon: So wait.

‘Elections are about the future’

Rishi Sunak: But elections are about the future and the choice. I believe in a deterrent. I believe that if people come here illegally, they shouldn’t be able to stay. We should be able to remove them to a safe third country like Rwanda. That’s how we’ll break the cycle. Keir Starmer doesn’t believe in that. He would scrap that scheme if he was prime minister, making us the soft touch of Europe, offering an amnesty to illegal migrants, and that’s the choice that people have in this election

Gary Gibbon: You know why I’m asking this question, because you will have had discussions in the room when you decided on having an early election. When you call an election, how you call an election, frames the early part of that election, and people don’t understand why you’re going early. We’re told it’s always been in your mind to go earlier. You were telling Tory MPs and anyone else who would listen, you were going to have an election in the second half of the year. If I told you I’m going to lend you some money but not ask for it back until the second half of the year, and then I asked for it back two days into the second half of the year, you’d think that was a bit slippery. It’s all a bit odd.

Rishi Sunak: Economic stability has been restored. That’s what I said I would do as prime minister. And now is the time to turn to the future. And that’s what we’re doing. And on illegal migration, there’s a clear choice. If I’m prime minister, we will get flights off to Rwanda. I believe that that’s an important part of how you stop the boats. You need a deterrent. Multiple other European countries now agree with that approach. Keir Starmer doesn’t. And that’s a simple choice.

Gary Gibbon: If it’s a great policy, show it in action, hang around a few more months.

‘Bold action’

Rishi Sunak: That’s a simple choice for the country when they’re making their decision. Do they want to stop the boats? Do they believe that that needs a deterrent? And if they do, that’s what I’ll deliver. I’m prepared to take bold action. I’ve got a clear plan. That’s how I’ll deliver a secure future for our country. And Keir Starmer won’t. There’s a choice at this election. Who can you trust to take bold action or stick to a clear plan to deliver a secure future? That’s what I’m about.

Gary Gibbon: That word security and stability, you talk about that. Can you say hand on heart, vote for the Conservative Party for stability?

Rishi Sunak: Yes.

Gary Gibbon: People think that sounds a bit hollow, given the last few years.

Rishi Sunak: Because I have restored economic stability to our country.

Gary Gibbon: I asked about the Conservative Party.

Rishi Sunak: I’m the Conservative prime minister.

Gary Gibbon: For how long? They were looking like they were coming for you not that long ago. You were having meetings, discussing that, your own MPs.

Rishi Sunak: You’re interested in Westminster process, the country’s interested…

Gary Gibbon: It matters.

Rishi Sunak: …in the substance. And the substance is inflation has now returned to normal, wages are growing faster than prices for almost a year. Energy bills are falling, the economy is growing. And whilst I know it will take time for people to feel the full benefits of that, it’s clear that our plan is working.

Gary Gibbon: Prime minister, thank you for your time.

Rishi Sunak: Thank you.