British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday called a snap general election for July 4, ending weeks of speculation and setting up a possible political sea change for the United Kingdom.

Sunak made the announcement outside 10 Downing Street after holding a meeting of his cabinet where he informed them of his plans to dissolve Parliament and send Britons to the polls.

"Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future," Sunak said during his rain-soaked address.

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Under British law, a general election needed to be held by January 2025, but it was up to Sunak to choose the timing. He had repeatedly said it would be held in the back end of 2024.

Sunak's Conservative Party has been in power for 14 years, the longest reign for a party in the U.K. in modern times.

But the party has fallen steadily out of favour since the last election in 2019, with Sunak the third person to serve as prime minister since then.

He took office through party selection in October 2022 after the turbulent terms of Boris Johnson, who was brought down by a series of ethics scandals, and Liz Truss, whose brief term saw economic turmoil over unfunded tax cuts and who lasted just 50 days in the job.

Sunak has managed to steady the economy, but has also failed to turn around his party's popularity.

Headlines have been dominated with criticism over policies like a world-leading ban on smoking and a controversial — and court-blocked — migrant relocation program that sends people arriving on small boats from across the English Channel to Rwanda.

Opinion polls suggest the Conservatives are well behind the opposition Labour Party heading into the election. The latest BBC poll tracker suggests Labour is more than 20 points ahead of the Tories.

An Ipsos poll last month found just 16 per cent of voters were satisfied with Sunak's performance as prime minister, while 75 per cent were unsatisfied — the lowest rating for a British prime minister in the history of Ipsos, dating back to 1978. According to the poll, 84 per cent of British voters are dissatisfied with how the country is being run.

"The Conservatives are going to lose, and they would lose if it was today or July or January," Matthew Lebo, a political science professor at Western University who studies international politics, told Global News.

"People are good and sick of them."

Labour's momentum has been building throughout the year, with the party winning a series of special elections for seats in Parliament and dealing the Conservatives heavy losses in local elections earlier this month. Two Tory lawmakers also recently defected to Labour.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer kicked off his party's election campaign last week by pledging to "rebuild Britain," setting out the first steps he said Labour would take if it forms the next government, with a focus on economic stability.

He also pledged to improve border security, recruit more teachers and police and reduce lengthy waiting lists at hospitals and doctors′ clinics across the country.

He told reporters earlier Wednesday his party was "fully ready" to hit the campaign trail, adding he believes the country was "crying out for a general election."

Sunak's announcement came the same day official figures showed inflation in the U.K. had fallen sharply to 2.3 per cent, its lowest level in nearly three years on the back of big declines in domestic bills.

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The drop in April marks the greatest progress to date on five pledges Sunak made in January 2023, including halving inflation, which had climbed to above 11% at the end of 2022.

Sunak hailed the new figure as a sign his economic plan was working, but acknowledged during his announcement that "things are not easy" still for many people in the country, which is dealing with a cost of living crisis.

“Brighter days are ahead, but only if we stick to the plan to improve economic security and opportunity for everyone," Sunak said Wednesday.

A change in government would also have implications for Canada, a key ally and trading partner that has nevertheless found itself in conflict with the U.K. recently.

Britain announced in January that it was pausing negotiations for a new free trade agreement with Canada, claiming “progress is not being made.”

Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary David Cameron — who served as the first prime minister of the modern Conservative era — took a shot at NATO allies like Canada who aren't meeting the alliance's spending target of two per cent of GDP on defence, saying the threshold should be raised even higher to 2.5 per cent.

Canada's new defence policy would raise its current spending levels to 1.76 per cent of GDP.

Canada was also sidelined from AUKUS, the new defence intelligence-sharing partnership between the U.K., the United States and Australia — despite all three being Five Eyes allies.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan admitted he was "surprised" by the timing of Sunak's election call, but declined to comment further on U.K. politics or the potential outcome of the vote.

"We have a very strong — that's an understatement — partnership and alliance with the U.K. regardless of elections, regardless of prime ministers," he said at a press briefing Wednesday.

"We wish them luck in the conduct of their election, and we will be here as the United States standing with the U.K. through it all."

G7 leaders, including Sunak, are set to convene for their annual summit in Italy in June — two weeks before the British election.

With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

2024-05-22T16:28:01Z dg43tfdfdgfd