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Rishi Sunak warns Britain is at a crossroads ahead of general election

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Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts as he leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on May 8, 2024.

Adrian Dennis | Afp | Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared Monday that Britain is at a “crossroads” and in need of bold new ideas as he seeks to reignite waning support for his ruling Conservative Party ahead of a general election.

In a speech delivered in central London, Sunak said the coming years will be among the most challenging in Britain’s history, with threats such as war, migration and technology all set to intensify.

Speaking ahead of a national election expected later this year — although the date has not yet been set — Sunak argued he is the best person to navigate these threats.

“I feel a profound sense of urgency because more will change in the next five years than in the last 30,” he said at the Policy Exchange think tank in London.

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

Sunak said prioritizing national security was key to safeguarding the U.K.’s future and noted he would be willing to withdraw Britain’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, or ECHR, if necessary.

“Illegal immigration is placing an intolerable strain on our security and our sense of fairness, and unless we act now and we act boldly, this problem is only going to grow,” he said.

The prime minister has previously said he is prepared to ignore orders from the ECHR, which stymy his flagship policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Sunak also cited growing threats from an “axis of authoritarian states,” including Russia, Iran, North Korea and China, which he said were undermining Western democratic values and increasing the risks of conflict.

Aides told the Guardian that Sunak has wanted to deliver the speech for some time. However, the comments have gained fresh urgency as the incumbent’s political future hangs in the balance following a dismal showing for the Conservatives in local elections earlier this month, as well as a string of defections by Tory MPs to the opposition Labour Party.

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Current opinion polls put Labour as much as 30 points ahead of the Tories, and at least 64 Tory MPs have said they will step down at the general election.

Labour has said the Conservatives cannot fix the U.K.’s problems because “they are the problem.”

But Sunak, who has positioned tackling illegal immigration and capitalizing on the prospects of artificial intelligence as key tenets of his premiership, insisted he can move the country forward.

“Our country stands at a crossroads,” he said. “Over the next few years, from our democracy to our society to our economy — to the hardest questions of war and peace — almost every aspect of our lives is going to change.”

“How we act in the face of those changes, not only to keep people safe and secure, but to realize the opportunities too, will determine whether or not Britain will succeed in the years to come,” he added.

It is unclear exactly when Britons will head to the polls, but Sunak has indicated that a vote could be called in the autumn. By law, the next U.K. general election must be held no later than Jan. 28, 2025.

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