Conservative manifesto: Rishi Sunak pins election hopes on tax cuts and lower migration

Plan to overturn Labour poll lead amid 'frustration' with Tories also sets out position on Israel-Palestine and promises closer ties with Gulf partners

Powered by automated translation

Rishi Sunak put the promise of a major tax giveaway for workers and drastically lower immigration at the heart of the Conservative Party manifesto, in a bid to gain some traction with voters.

He admitted that people are “frustrated” with him and that the Tories “have not got everything right” over 14 years of government.

The Prime Minister’s mea culpa came as he set out a policy platform he hopes can overturn Labour’s yawning poll lead before July 4.

The 80-page document launched on Tuesday also sets out the party’s position on Israel, stating the country had a right to defend itself while also recognising a Palestinian state “at a time that is most conducive to the peace process”. Labour is expected to say later this week it would recognise Palestine “at the right time”.

The Conservatives further promised closer ties with its partners in the Gulf “based on an appreciation of regional perspectives and shared interests” and said it intends to complete a free trade agreement with the GCC.

It also targeted Iran as an “authoritarian state” that would now be included in the “enhanced tier” along with Russia and China on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme that seeks greater transparency on the influence of foreign powers in British politics.

Tax giveaway

In a launch ceremony at the Silverstone Formula One racing track, the British Prime Minister made a series of pledges that would reward workers with tax breaks in a multibillion-pound gamble to get the Conservatives' campaign back on track.

Speaking in front of his cabinet, party workers and the media, Mr Sunak gave a fluent performance announcing a 2 per cent tax cut to National Insurance with a pledge to scrap it entirely for the self-employed to “encourage more people to become entrepreneurs”.

His party would also “end double taxation on work” by halving it to 6 per cent by 2027.

There was also a promise to introduce a two-year temporary capital gains tax relief for landlords who sell to existing tenants.

In all, Mr Sunak announced more than £30 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, creating a clear dividing line with the Labour opposition that he again accused of raising taxes by £2,000 per household if elected.

Immigration

Mr Sunak said the Conservatives would halve migration “then reduce it every single year”.

In May, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said net migration “remained at unusually high levels”, despite official estimates suggesting a 10 per cent drop in numbers last year.

Mr Sunak pledged, if elected, to remove illegal small boat arrivals in Britain by instigating his Rwanda deportation scheme with the first flights in July.

“The government decides who comes to our county and not criminal gangs,” he said in reference to the cross-Chanel people smugglers. He declined to put a figure on how many people will be sent to Rwanda.

With net migration running at around 650,000, the Conservatives promised to introduce a “binding, legal cap on migration” at a level that “explicitly takes into account the costs and the benefits of migration”.

The cap would fall every year and parliament would be given an annual vote on its level.

It also promised to work with other countries “to rewrite asylum treaties” and Mr Sunak threatened to exit the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure the Rwanda scheme worked.

Palestine commitment

On Israel, the Conservatives said they “staunchly stand behind Israel’s right to defend itself” and would continue “to support access to aid” for those in affected by the conflict, although did not mention Gaza.

It added: “We will push for a two-state solution in the Middle East – our long-standing position has been that we will recognise a Palestinian State at a time that is most conducive to the peace process.”

Defence increase

The Conservatives promised to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030 because “security is essential for success” in what would be the biggest increase since the Cold War.

Mr Sunak derided Labour leader Keir Starmer for refusing to match the commitment by wanting to keep a “bloated civil service” rather than giving the armed forces the equipment they needed.

“We will fire up our defence industrial base,” he said in order to “deter our enemies and defend our values – only Conservatives can be trusted to keep Britain safe.”

The manifesto also committed to all 18-year-olds doing national service either in the military or a civic role for a “more unified and cohesive society”.

'Frustrated with me'

Following the debacle over his early departure from the D-Day commemorations last week, Mr Sunak adopted a more conciliatory tone, taking in Tory debacles that have seen five prime ministers in eight years.

Mr Sunak conceded it has not all been plain sailing as he highlighted the Conservatives’ record from 14 years in government.

He said: “I’m not blind to the fact that people are frustrated with our party and frustrated with me.

“Things have not always been easy. And we have not got everything right.”

But, he insisted, “we are the only party in this election with the big ideas to make our country a better place to live”.

Asked if the Conservative manifesto was a “last-chance saloon” as the party remains 20 points behind Labour in the polls, Mr Sunak said the election was “about the future”.

He criticised Labour for giving “no solution to our problems” and warned that if Mr Starmer became prime minister his party “will change the rules so that they are in power for a very long time”.

The Labour leader said the money is not there to pay for Mr Sunak’s pledges, warning they are a “recipe for five more years of chaos” under the Conservatives.

Almost half the public think the Conservatives' campaign is not going well, a new poll has found.

The survey from Ipsos UK found 48 per cent of people thought the Tory campaign was going badly, up from 41 per cent after the first week of the election period.

Only 17 per cent said they thought the party's campaign was going well, giving the Conservatives similar numbers to those achieved by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in 2019, when 48 per cent said Labour was doing badly and 23 per cent said the party was doing well.

What else is in the manifesto?

Stamp duty

The Conservatives have pledged to “abolish stamp duty entirely” for first-time buyers on homes up to £425,000.

Mr Sunak said: “We'll also introduce a new Help to Buy scheme to get the new generation on to the property ladder, all part of our plan to build an ownership society, where more and more people have the security and pride that comes from owning your own home.”

The Conservative Party manifesto also pledges to “deliver 1.6 million homes in England in the next Parliament” and commits to push on with delayed reforms to the rental market, including an end to section 21 no-fault evictions.

Net zero

The Conservatives would “cut the cost of net zero for consumers by taking a more pragmatic approach, guaranteeing no new green levies or charges while accelerating the rollout of renewables”.

The party’s manifesto recommits to legislation for annual licensing rounds of oil and gas production in the North Sea – which failed to get through the last parliament before it was dissolved – and new gas power plants, prompting an angry response from environmental campaigners.

There are also promises to treble offshore wind capacity, build the first two carbon capture and storage clusters and invest £1.1 billion in helping green industries grow.

Within the first 100 days of the next parliament, the Tories say they will approve two new fleets of small modular reactors, while there are also plans to halve the time it takes for new nuclear plants to be approved and to deliver a new gigawatt power plant at Wylfa, in North Wales.

Pensions

The Conservatives have pledged to protect pensioners from having to pay tax on their state pensions.

Billed as the “triple lock-plus”, the policy would see the threshold at which pensioners have to pay income tax rise so that state pension increases will never rise above the income tax threshold.

National service

The manifesto outlines the party’s plans for mandatory national service, funding 100,000 “high-quality” apprenticeships” and protecting children by “requiring schools to ban the use of mobile phones during the school day”.

Mr Sunak said national service would help young people “feel a sense of community, belonging and national purpose”.

Borrowing and debt

The manifesto says: “In the next Parliament, we will continue to meet our fiscal rules of having public sector net debt falling and for public sector net borrowing to be below 3 per cent of GDP in the fifth year of the forecast.

“The measures in this manifesto are fully funded and would result in lower borrowing in 2029-30, which will be the target year for our fiscal rules in the first fiscal event of the new Parliament.”

Transport

The manifesto details a series of transport pledges, including £8.3 billion to “fill potholes and resurface roads” and boosting Midlands rail connectivity with £1.75 billion to fund the “Midlands Rail hub in full”.

Railway upgrades in the South West, including the line through Dawlish, the energy coastline in Cumbria and the Ely Junction scheme in East Anglia are also among the measures listed.

Public spending on research and development would be increased to £22 billion a year in the next Parliament, the Conservatives said.

Trade and Co-operation

The Conservative Party manifesto notes the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) is the “most comprehensive” free trade agreement the EU has “ever agreed”, adding: “We will build on it, but will not agree to anything in the forthcoming review of the TCA that would infringe our legal sovereignty or involve submission to the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) or dynamic alignment.

“We will take a tough approach on ensuring that the EU are meeting their commitments under the TCA and not discriminating against our exporters.

“We have always been clear the NHS and the services it provides are not on the table in trade negotiations.”

Civil service

The manifesto states the party wants to return the civil service to its pre-pandemic size to “pay for our commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP”.

It adds the party also wants to halve the amount of taxpayers' money spent on external consultants and “introduce controls on all 'equality, diversity and inclusion' initiatives and spending”.

A further 25,000 civil servants would be moved outside London, it adds.

National Living Wage

The Conservatives say they will “maintain” it in “each year of the next parliament at two-thirds of median earnings” before noting: “On current forecasts, that would mean it rising to around £13 per hour, up from a minimum wage of £5.80 under Labour in 2010.”

Benefits

The party would “address the unsustainable rise” in benefit claims for people of working age with a disability or health condition. Child tax benefit will now be given to higher earners, doubling the threshold to incomes of £120,000 as well as giving 30 hours of free toddler care, worth £6,900 a year.

Police

The Tories have pledged to get 8,000 more “bobbies on the beat”, with a focus on community policing.

Education

The Conservatives have pledged to boost apprenticeships numbers, creating a further 100,000 by 2029.

At the same time they have taken aim at “rip-off” degrees which offer poor value to students, and say scrapping these will help pay for their apprenticeship programme.

Leadership and the world

The manifesto states: “Our highest priority remains protecting the British homeland, Crown dependencies and overseas territories from risks and threats.

“As part of that, we continue to ensure the democratic rights of people in Gibraltar, the Falklands and all our overseas territories are protected.”

Martyn’s Law

The manifesto states: “We will urgently introduce Martyn's Law, in tribute to Martyn Hett, who was tragically killed alongside 21 others in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017.

“This will ensure premises are better prepared for terrorist attacks by requiring them to take proportionate steps to mitigate risks.”

Backing Drivers Bill

The manifesto says this will “stop road pricing”, adding: “A Conservative government will not introduce pay-per-mile road pricing and will ban mayors and local councils from doing so.”

It also pledges to reverse the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) in London and “rule out top-down blanket low-traffic neighbourhoods and 20mph zones”.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 2:15 PM