Gloom for Sunak as he admits Rwanda flights won't take off – and four more Tories quit

Rishi Sunak asks Welsh voters if they are looking forward to Euros - despite team not qualifying

rishi sunak, prime minister, rwanda, tory, general elections, gloom for sunak as he admits rwanda flights won't take off – and four more tories quit

Rishi Sunak suffered a catastrophic first day of campaigning after his shock decision to call a general election for 4 July.

The prime minister began the day infuriating Tory MPs as he was forced to admit that deportation flights to Rwanda will not go ahead before the election, prompting senior figures to declare the policy “dead”.

An exodus of Conservative MPs saw four more MPs declare that they will not seek reelection taking the total up to 69.

And his problems were compounded when the first poll taken after he called the election revealed support for the Tories plummet and Labour’s lead going up three to 26 points.

The Techne UK poll shared with The Independent put Labour up one on 45 percent, and the Tories down two on 19 percent, the first time they have been below 20 percent.

Even more concerning was the rise in support for Reform UK on the right, up two to 14 percent with the Lib Dems on 12 percent and Greens on 5 percent.

rishi sunak, prime minister, rwanda, tory, general elections, gloom for sunak as he admits rwanda flights won't take off – and four more tories quit
Rishi Sunak arrives for a campaign event (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The prospect of a split on the right has been made more likely after Reform announced it would field candidates in 630 constituencies.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak was embarrassed on the campaign trail when it emerged that a man in a high visibility jacket asking him a question was a Tory councillor.

Then he made a gaffe in Wales asking them if they would be watching the Euros football tournament even though Wales had failed to qualify.

With an enormous deficit in the polls to make up, the prime minister desperately needed a good first day on the campaign trail.

This was particularly true after he was roundly mocked for his launch speech outside Downing Street when he was drenched in the rain and had to battle to be heard over Tony Blair’s campaign song from 1997 Things Can Only Be Better being blasted out by anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray.

Mr Sunak admitted early in the broadcast round that the Rwanda plan would be delayed until after the election.

This prompted anger from a number of senior Tories who had been banking on the flights to go ahead to help persuade voters they have the “small boats” crisis under control.

rishi sunak, prime minister, rwanda, tory, general elections, gloom for sunak as he admits rwanda flights won't take off – and four more tories quit
Rishi Sunak campaigning (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

One ex-cabinet minister declared: “The Rwanda plan is now dead.”

Another former senior minister said: “It’s frankly disgraceful. All the arguments Robert Jenrick and Sir Bill Cash made at the turn of the year [over the Rwanda Bill] were right. [Sunak]’s accepted he was wrong and his policy doesn’t work, if he ever intended to stop the boats at all. Everyone who went along with his plan in the cabinet should be ashamed.”

The words were echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

He said: "I don't think he's ever believed that plan is going to work, and so he has called an election early enough to have it not tested before the election.

"We have to deal with the terrible loss of control of the border under this government, we have to tackle the small boats that are coming across but nobody should be making that journey."

Meanwhile Mr Sunak insisted that the Rwanda scheme would provide a deterrent, telling GB News: "Unless you're able to deliver that, people will keep coming."

On a visit to a distribution centre in Derbyshire, the prime minister sought to hammer his message that the Tories have a "clear plan" while Labour would go "back to square one".

He was also having to deal with an exodus of MPs.

rishi sunak, prime minister, rwanda, tory, general elections, gloom for sunak as he admits rwanda flights won't take off – and four more tories quit
Lee Anderson, former MP Ann Widdecombe, and Reform UK leader Richard Tice at the party election launch on Thursday (Getty Images)

Ministers Jo Churchill and Huw Merriman joined deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing and backbencher James Grundy in announcing they would not be seeking reelection.

Meanwhile, the Techne UK poll of 1,643 people revealed deeply disturbing trends for the Tories.

Only a third (36 percent) of the 2019 Tory voters would still vote for the party, 19 percent have switched to Reform even without Nigel Farage, and 14 percent to Labour. Another 19 percent are uncertain.

Techne’s chief executive Michela Morizzo said: “Westminster and the whole country are still in shock that Rishi Sunak called the general election yesterday for 4 July. Our regular tracker poll today, the first after the announcement, delivers a bombshell immediate assessment for the prime minister and his party. For the first time ever our polling shows the Conservatives dropping below the 20 percent national vote share.

“This is the highest Labour lead we have given Starmer’s Party in any poll we have completed to date. Richard Tice’s Reform U.K. jumps up a significant two points in national vote share to 14 percent, again the highest share of the national vote we have ever recorded.

“If these polling figures were delivered on General Election day Sunak’s party would record less than a 100 Conservative Members of Parliament and Starmer’s party would have a considerable majority.

Things look very bleak for the Conservatives indeed and it seems very difficult to think of anything other than a strong Labour victory on 4 July.”

According to Electoral Calculus, a prediction website often used to judge the state of the parties, this result would leave the Tories as the third party in British politics with just 34 seats behind the Lib Dems on 62 while Labour would have an overall majority of 388.

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