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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces demands to call an early election. Will he?

Rishi Sunak speaks at the opening of London Tech Week.
Rishi Sunak speaks at the opening of London Tech Week. Copyright Ian Vogler / POOL / AFP
Copyright Ian Vogler / POOL / AFP
By Scott Reid with AP, AFP
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Under fire from Boris Johnson, facing pressure in the polls: what are the options for the UK's leader?

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The resignation of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a Member of Parliament, alongside three of his allies, has prompted fresh questions over whether current PM Rishi Sunak will call a general election. 

Johnson announced on Friday evening that he was resigning as an MP, claiming he'd been "forced out of Parliament". 

He quit after he saw in advance a report by the Commons Privileges Committee, which had been investigating whether he misled the House of Commons over alleged lockdown breaches at Downing Street when he was Prime Minister. 

Two other MPs who are among his close allies - Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams - also subsequently resigned from Parliament. 

The three resignations will result in by-elections in their constituencies to elect replacement MPs. However, opposition politicians, including Labour leader Keir Starmer, called on Sunak to go one step further and a call a country-wide general election. 

Beyond the resignations, other allies of Johnson have also come out to support him. Jacob Rees-Mogg, knighted in Johnson's resignation honours just hours before he resigned, warned the party could face a "civil war" if it tried to block his return in the future. 

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who pushed for Brexit, even floated the idea of including Johnson in a new political party in an interview with GB News.

"If he wants to defend his Brexit legacy, I want to defend my Brexit legacy too, so would there be a possibility of a new coming together on the centre-right. It would be Boris Johnson, there would be other MPs that would join in with this as well," said Farage.

Farage said he hadn't discussed the idea with Johnson, but he had discussed it with "people very close to him". 

When does Rishi Sunak have to call a general election?

Rishi Sunak currently has a Conservative majority in parliament and doesn't have to call a general election until January 2025. However, prime ministers very rarely leave calling a poll until the last second. Being in command of the timing can help a leader choose a date when their party is on the ascendancy or, at the very least, gives them a headstart on preparation against their opponents.

If he chose to call an election soon then, if it went well, it would allow him to show that he has a fresh mandate to govern and it could answer some of his critics. 

This doesn't always go well, however. Theresa May called a snap election for 2017 to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. Instead, she lost her party's overall majority in the House of Commons and had to do a deal with Northern Ireland party the DUP to remain in power.

As things now stand, recent polling has repeatedly shown the opposition Labour Party in the lead and, as polling expert Sir John Curtice told LBC radio, "odds-on to form the next administration". 

He added that the question at the moment is whether Labour would do well enough to be able to command an overall majority in the House of Commons, in effect able to pass laws without the support of other parties. 

"It's certainly plausible that things improve enough for the Conservatives that we get into hung parliament territory. Whether they can turn it around enough to be able to themselves form a government, that at the moment seems a very tall order," he added.

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, agreed.

"Rishi Sunak may want to get the by-elections over with as soon as possible to get any bad news they bring out of the way, but he'll wait as long as he can before calling a general election: to have any chance of winning he'll have to show that the economy is improving, that the NHS is no longer falling apart, and that his promise to 'stop the boats' is working," he told Euronews. 

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"Even then he'll wait until Conservative research suggests he has a chance of overhauling the Labour Party's lead in the opinion polls."

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