Sunak and Starmer kick off campaigns ahead of July 4 General Election

Politicians are touring the country and meeting voters as rivals in the first day of campaigning, as Sunak and Starmer battle it out to win the General Election, as Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

  • The first day of the General Election campaigns have begun as the countdown to July 4 starts

  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in the Highlands of Scotland after already visiting locations in England and Wales as he makes his way round the four nations

  • Labour leader Keir Starmer visited in Gillingham, targeting the Kent Tory heartland, as he kicks off his election campaign

  • Reform UK will have candidates for 630 seats - but its former leader and most high profile member Nigel Farage will not be standing

Words by Rachel Dixon, ITV News Producer

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have kicked off their election campaigns on Thursday, six weeks before the country goes to the polls on July 4.

Immigration policy, specifically the Rwanda Bill, has been top of the agenda and a key point of contention as the two rivals started their trips around the country.

Sir Keir accused Mr Sunak of never believing the Rwanda deportation plan would work, after the prime minister conceded flights would not take off before the election this morning.

Mr Sunak took a huge political gamble by calling the election on Wednesday night in a rain-soaked statement outside Number 10, despite having marked July for when the first deportation flight would take place.

But as he was quizzed by broadcasters today he continued to say that all the plans were "in place" and if he was voted in he "would get the flights off the ground".

ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman speaks to people in Bassetlaw - a key seat that Labour will be fighting to snatch back after losing the constituency in 2019

Immigration is also at the centre of Reform UK's ploy to gain more seats.

In London, party leader Richard Tice hit out at high levels of net migration, and the “weak, feeble politicians who have broken Britain” during his opening speech.

There was speculation over whether Reform's most high-profile figure, honorary president Nigel Farage, would run, but he confirmed that while he would help with the campaign, he would not be standing. Writing on X, he said it was "not the right time".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, is poised to visit a target seat as he launches a campaign expected to focus on targeting Conservative-held seats, following a series of eye-catching by-election successes.

Meanwhile in Westminster, Parliament is rushing through a number of bills including the Victims and Prisoners Bill, to provide compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal.

There are just two days left for Commons business, as the King has approved to prorogue Parliament, on a day no earlier than Friday May 24 and no later than Tuesday May 28.

On the campaign trail


Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has visited England, Wales and Scotland on the first day of election campaigning, in his bid to stay in Number 10.

Mr Sunak started the day on a tour of broadcasters, where flights to Rwanda were top of the agenda.

He said, if he was successful, the first flights would be taking off after the election results were in - on Friday July 5.

When challenged on this, and asked if people should be able to see the policy in action to inform their vote, Mr Sunak responded that all the plans were "in place" - including booking airfields and hiring case workers.

'If Starmer was PM and the policy did not go ahead, Britain would become the 'soft touch of Europe' on migration' says Sunak

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Sunak visited a distribution centre in Derbyshire to answer questions from staff.

Speaking to around 50 workers at the warehouse, the prime minister repeated his message that the Conservatives would offer economic stability and "a clear plan," while Labour would take the UK "back to square one".

He said his record during Covid meant he could be trusted to bring economic stability, as he had brought down inflation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (centre) watching beer being bottled at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, in Barry, south Wales. Credit: PA

Next on his whistle-stop tour was a brief stint in a brewery at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, in Barry, south Wales.

Mr Sunak, who does not drink alcohol, was taken on a tour of the facilities and told staff they were “part of a proper industry that we’re keen to support”, mentioning a “Brexit pubs guarantee” and support with business rates.

He also asked if the workers were looking forward to the football later this summer, despite Wales not qualifying for the Euro 2024 tournament.

He is finishing the day in the Highlands, with a trip to Northern Ireland scheduled for Friday.


Sir Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of never believing the Rwanda deportation plan would work after the prime minister conceded flights would not take off before the election.

“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,” Sir Keir said.

He made the comments after giving his first speech on the campaign trail at Gillingham Football Club, where he was flanked by supporters, including deputy leader Angela Rayner, waving the Labour Change posters.

Hoping to make inroads in Tory areas, Sir Keir started his day in Kent's Medway towns where the local council turned red in 2023, despite the Conservatives holding Parliamentary seats.

The Labour leader said: "This election is for you, because you now have the power, the chance to end the chaos, to turn the page and rebuild Britain."

'This election is for you... end the chaos,' says Sir Keir

He said, what the Tories have done to the country is "unforgivable" and voters "do not need to put up with it".

Given the location, he joked: "Last time under a Labour government, Gillingham was in the same league as Manchester City, so that is a good place to start."

Reform UK

Leader of Reform Richard Tice confirmed the new party would be bidding for 630 seats in the election.

He'll be hoping to win over the constituency of Boston and Skegness, which is currently held by the Conservatives. Mr Tice previously stood in Hartlepool.

He said: "Yesterday we had the prime minister drenched in rain, his voice drowned out by the boogie blaster... it typifies the utter incompetence and uselessness of this Conservative government."

Mr Tice went on to say Reform's increasing popularity was the reason Mr Sunak called an election far earlier than many expected.

"He was absolutely terrified by the fact that Reform UK is going up and up in the polls with our common sense policies to save Britain, while the Tories have been sinking," he said.

Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats will be targeting 80 seats around the country where they are currently second place to the Conservatives.

They started their campaign in the ultra-marginal seat of Cheltenham - its currently held by Justice Secretary Alex Chalk who secured a majority of just 981 votes over Liberal Democrat opponent Max Wilkinson at the last election.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey makes a speech during a visit to the town centre in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Credit: PA

“Our politics is broken. If you can transform it that unlocks the chance to fix our health and care system, to get our economy back on track, to end the scandal of sewage, to get the fair deal that people so, so deserve," the party's leader Ed Davey said.

“Every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for a local champion who’s going to fight for you, your family and your community – for that fair deal."

Earlier deputy party leader Daisy Cooper urged people in areas where seats are marginal "in order to beat the Conservative MP" they "need to vote Liberal Democrat," as she appeared on broadcast news outlets this morning.

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper Credit: PA

The MP for St Albans also confirmed the Lib Dems would “absolutely not” make pacts with other parties in the General Election.

On whether the Lib Dems would hold government-forming talks with Labour if it comes short of a majority, she said: “I’m not going to think about anything that happens after 10pm on polling day.

“We are completely focused on winning as many votes as possible and beating Conservative MPs right now.”

The party currently does not have an election manifesto ready as Sunak's announcement came as "a bit of a surprise" to them, Ms Cooper said.


Scotland’s new First Minister insisted he can lead the SNP to victory in an “independence day” General Election as he started his election campaign in Edinburgh.

Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) John Swinney gives a speech at the launch of the SNP's General Election. Credit: PA

John Swinney said the election, now confirmed to take place on July 4, also gave voters the chance to get rid of Rishi Sunak and his “disastrous” Conservative government, adding, “never has a government deserved to lose more.”

He told voters: "The challenger for every Tory seat in Scotland is the Scottish National Party. So by voting SNP you can get rid of this Tory government.

”And while he said the six weeks of election campaigning would see Labour and the Tories “going hammer and tongs to discredit each other” in the race for Downing Street, he said he would be “going hammer and tongs to put Scotland first”.


The DUP’s interim leader has told rival unionists it is not too late to co-operate to deliver victories for pro-union candidates in several key election battlegrounds in Northern Ireland.

Mr Robinson was elevated to the party leadership following the shock resignation of Jeffrey Donaldson in March after he was charged with a series of historical sexual offences.

DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson speaking to the media during a press conference at a Sure Start centre in east Belfast. Credit: PA

The East Belfast seat held by Mr Robinson and the Lagan Valley seat being vacated by Donaldson are both being targeted by the cross-community Alliance Party.

There has been a lot of speculation as to who might stand for the DUP in Lagan Valley following Donaldson’s exit from the political stage. Deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly, Education Minister Paul Givan and Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley are among those touted as potential candidates.

In both battles a significant split in the unionist vote could prove decisive.

The Traditional Unionist Voice party, which is highly critical of the DUP's decision to end its boycott on Stormont devolution earlier this year, is hoping to convince disaffected DUP voters to switch allegiances on July 4.

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