PM warns of ‘nuclear escalation’ threat – as he refuses to set general election date

Rishi Sunak has said the next five years will be “some of the most dangerous… our country has ever known” – but refused to set a date for a general election.

The prime minister said voters would face a choice between “the future and the past” at the general election and insisted he was “confident” the Tories could defeat Labour.

“It is only us, it is only me, that has the bold ideas and the clear plan that will deliver a secure future for the country,” he told Sky News following a speech in London.

But he refused to say when he would call an election, instead saying it would be “at some point in the second half of this year”.

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In a wide-ranging speech that appeared to be a soft launch of his election campaign, Mr Sunak sought to position himself as the best option to navigate a dangerous period, adding that the war in Ukraine “has taken us closer to a dangerous nuclear escalation than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis”.

The PM claimed Sir Keir Starmer could not keep the country safe because he once supported Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour leader and Sir Keir had not committed to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP.

Mr Sunak said he remained “confident” his party could win the general election despite polls continuing to suggest the Tories are on course to lose.

He admitted “we haven’t got everything right” over the past 14 years his party has been in power but said Labour “have almost nothing to say” about what they would do on most issues.

“No plans for our border, no plans for our energy security, no plans for our economy either,” he said.

Mr Sunak said Sir Keir had “no principles either” and had gone from “embracing Jeremy Corbyn to Natalie Elphicke” – the Tory MP who defected to Labour – “all in the cynical pursuit of power. At any price”.

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He claimed Labour “have no ideas” and act “like a pressure group, not of would-be government”.

Asked if he believed the country would be less safe under a Starmer leadership, and if this was the beginning of an argument that says “be careful what you wish for. Better the devil you know”, Mr Sunak replied: “In a word, yes.”

The PM said he could be relied on to make difficult decisions on the economy and defence, and he would make the UK a world leader in AI and technological advances.

Focusing on defence and technology, he said: “I feel a profound sense of urgency because more will change in the next five years than in the last 30.

“I’m convinced that the next few years will be some of the most dangerous, yet the most transformational, that our country has ever known.”

Mr Sunak said the UK needs to be “prepared strategically, economically, with robust plans and greater national resilience”.

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Sir Keir Starmer hit out at Mr Sunak’s accusations the UK would be less safe under Labour.

“We would not be less safe under a Labour government,” he said.

“A Labour government has always understood, and I understand very well, having worked on national security, in my previous role when I was Director of Public Prosecutions, I know first hand the importance of national security, which is why I’ve made such a commitment to the national security of our country.

“But in order to make that happen, you need a credible plan for the future.

“This government talks about national security. But what’s its record?

“It’s hollowed out our armed forces. It’s wasted billions of pounds on procurement and doesn’t have a credible plan for the future.

“We are much more serious than that. And that is because we’re a changed Labour Party that puts our country first and our participants.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak should call a general election.

He said: “Families are sick of the Conservatives failing our NHS, allowing water companies to pump their sewage into our rivers and refusing to help families through the cost of living crisis.

“This Conservative government is out of touch and out of time and Rishi Sunak must do the right thing and give the people a general election.”

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