Sunak’s five key pledges hanging in the balance after setbacks
Rishi Sunak’s five key policy pledges are looking increasingly more difficult to deliver after a week marked by several setbacks.
Shortly after moving into No 10, Rishi Sunak invited the British public to judge him on five key promises – to halve inflation this year, cut NHS waiting lists, get national debt falling, grow the economy and “stop the boats”.
Ever since he delivered that speech in early January, the PM has not shied away from reminding the public that the Government is laser focused on those objectives.
However, progress has been minimal, and events this week further dealt the PM a bad hand, such as figures showing Britain’s economy is barely growing and the overall NHS waiting list has hit a new record high.
Here we look at how Mr Sunak is faring on each of his pledges:
Stop the boats
The Prime Minister pledged to “stop the boats” and to pass “new laws” to ensure that “if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
Mr Sunak’s Government did succeed in securing its Illegal Migration Act after months of controversy before Parliament went on summer recess, but officials are still working on when the legislation will come into force.
The Act places a legal duty on the Government to detain and remove those arriving in the UK illegally, either to Rwanda or another “safe” third country, but there are no similar return deals with any other countries and the Rwanda plan was ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.
Ministers are challenging the judgment and the Supreme Court hearing is expected this autumn.
Furthermore, at the beginning of summer, Mr Sunak insisted his plan was “starting to work”, saying the number of people making the journey had reduced compared with last year and playing down suggestions this was linked to poor weather conditions rather than policy decisions.
However, migrant crossings not only set a new record for the month of June, but fresh arrivals on Thursday pushed the total number of people crossing the English Channel on small boats since 2018 to 100,000.
Grow the economy
In the second quarter of the year, the UK economy exhibited a surprising performance, expanding by 0.2%.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that gross domestic product (GDP) experienced a 0.5% rise in June, attributed in part to the strength of the manufacturing sector.
However, quarterly GDP is still 0.2% below where it was in the final three months of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and forced the country into lockdown.
While the new data puts the UK on a better course to avoid falling into a recession, forecasts from the Bank of England see growth remaining sluggish for years to come.
Treasury minister John Glen told Sky News on Thursday morning it is “very difficult” to achieve higher levels of growth when “you are dealing with inflation pressures”.
Asked whether he was confident the Prime Minister would deliver on his pledge to grow the economy by the end of the year, he said: “We had the highest growth last year in the G7 and we are predicted in 2025 to get back up to that level.
“But you won’t expect me to commentate on the outcome of something that will take all year. We are at half-time.”
Cut NHS waiting lists
Since Mr Sunak pledged at the start of the year that “lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”, numbers have soared to new record highs.
When he made the promise in January, 7.2 million people were waiting for routine hospital treatment.
Data published by NHS England on Thursday revealed 7.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June, up from 7.5 million in May.
The figure is the highest since records began in 2007.
A total of 383,083 people had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of June, down slightly from 385,022 at the end of May.
Elsewhere, some 7,177 patients are estimated to have been waiting more than 18 months, down from 11,446 at the end of May.
Halve inflation this year
The Prime Minister’s promise to halve inflation this year means a rate of around 5% by December 2023.
It was seen as the most achievable of Mr Sunak’s pledges, but it has proved more difficult than forecasters expected at the start of the year.
Last week, the Bank of England raised interest rates for the 14th time in a row to 5.25% from 5% as it signalled that borrowing costs could stay high for a prolonged period of time to keep a lid on inflation.
In a boost for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, though, the Bank said it expects the Government to meet its promise to halve inflation by the end of the year.
Inflation eased more than expected in June to 7.9%, down from 8.7% in May, and a new forecast from the Bank showed the rate of Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation will fall below 5% over the final three months of 2023.
Reduce national debt
The UK Government’s debt pile was bigger than the country’s economic output in June – the first time this has happened for more than 60 years, official data shows.
Public sector net borrowing hit £18.5 billion last month, down from £20 billion a month earlier, the ONS said. It pushed the total debt pile to a little under £2.6 trillion.
The ONS said debt reached 100.8% of GDP in June, the first time that had happened since 1961.
Efforts to cut debt will also make it less likely that Mr Sunak will have the scope to give in to Tory MPs clamouring for a pre-election tax giveaway.
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