Rishi Sunak has given the clearest hint yet about when he will call a general election, saying his “working assumption” is that it will happen in the second half of this year.
Speculation has been rife for months about when the prime minister will choose to go to the polls.
Technically, he can wait until December before calling an election, meaning voters would then cast their ballots in January 2025.
But Mr Sunak has narrowed down the timeframe for an election the polls suggest the Tories will lose, which would bring to an end 14 years in power under five prime ministers.
Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to a youth centre in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, he said: “So, my working assumption is we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year and in the meantime I’ve got lots that I want to get on with.”
The Conservative leader declined to rule out a May election categorically – but repeated his intentions to go for later in the year.
“I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes,” Mr Sunak said.
“But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration.
“So I’ve got lots to get on with and I’m determined to keep delivering for the British people.”
Labour has claimed that a spring vote is the “worst kept secret in parliament”, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer earlier saying in his own speech to voters that he is “ready” for a general election whenever it is called.
Responding to Mr Sunak’s remarks which hinted at an autumn vote, Sir Keir accused the prime minister of “delaying” the inevitable.
He told Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby: “We are ready for an election. I think the country is ready for elections. People are crying out for change. And I say to the prime minister, what’s he hiding? If he’s not going to set a date, what’s he hiding from the public?
“This has serious implications for the country because he’s basically saying he’s going to be squatting for months and months in Downing Street, dithering and delaying.
“So if he’s not being clear, and I don’t think he’s setting a date, what’s he hiding?”