Sunak and Starmer prepare for their first debate as disruptor Farage roils UK election waters – Metro US

Sunak and Starmer prepare for their first debate as disruptor Farage roils UK election waters

Britain Election
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer before speaking to pensioners about the impact of the energy crisis during a visit to the Bridge Cafe in Bolton, Greater Manchester, Britain, while on the General Election campaign trail, Tuesday June 4, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — The two main contenders to be Britain’s next prime minister were set to face off in a televised debate on Tuesday, with Conservative leader Rishi Sunak hoping to boost his party’s dismal outlook and Labour’s Keir Starmer aiming to cement his status as favorite.

The two-way leaders’ debate comes a day after populist Brexit-backer Nigel Farage dealt a blow to Sunak’s hopes of winning the July 4 election by announcing he will run for Parliament at the helm of the right-wing party Reform U.K.

Farage kicked off his campaign Tuesday in the eastern England seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea, where he is making an eighth attempt to win a seat in the House of Commons. His seven previous tries all failed.

The return of the populist politician, a key player in Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union, is a major headache for Sunak’s party, which already trails Labour in opinion polls. Farage and Reform look likely to siphon off votes of socially conservative older voters that the Tories have been targeting.

He claimed the Conservatives, who have been in office since 2010, had “betrayed” Brexit supporters because immigration had gone up, rather than down, since the U.K. left the EU.

While Farage stands some chance of defeating Clacton’s Conservative incumbent and getting elected on July 4, he acknowledged that his larger goal is to lead the “real” opposition to a Labour Party government if the Conservatives lose, as many expect.

Farage urged voters to “send me to Parliament to be a bloody nuisance.”

As he left a pub where he had been speaking to the media, Farage was splattered with a beverage, which appeared to be a milkshake, by a bystander. Essex Police said a 25-year-old woman from Clacton was arrested on suspicion of assault.

Milkshakes became an unlikely political weapon during Britain’s acrimonious disputes over Brexit after the 2016 referendum. Farage was one of several politicians splattered with a sticky beverage in 2019.

The attention-grabbing Farage has injected volatility into an election that will almost certainly result in either Starmer or Sunak becoming Britain’s leader.

The two men will go head-to-head in a debate on broadcaster ITV, with Sunak likely to stress his stewardship of the economy, which has seen inflation fall to just over 2% from a peak of more than 11% in late 2022.

Starmer, whose main campaign refrain is the single word “change,” aims to persuade voters tired of the Tories that Labour can be trusted with the U.K.’s economy, borders and security.

Further debates are scheduled by other broadcasters before polling day, some featuring multiple party leaders and some just the two front-runners.