Inflation and migrant crisis vie for Rishi Sunak's attention

He defended under-fire home secretary's claim that English south coast faced 'invasion'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at an event hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. Reuters
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New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the two priorities fighting for his attention are inflation and the migrant crisis that has seen a record number of people arrive in the country.

Mr Sunak said that while people cannot expect the state to “fix everyone's problems” inflation is his “number one enemy”.

He is also looking to earn the public’s trust after two prime ministers were forced from office, and as the country faces the cost of living price rises, war in Ukraine and warnings of a looming recession.

In an interview with The Times, he said that the financial misery and the migrant crisis were the two issues preoccupying him over the preceding 48 hours.

He defended under-fire Home Secretary Suella Braverman's controversial claim that the south coast was facing an “invasion” of migrants — but he did not use the word himself.

“What Suella was doing was conveying a sense of scale of the challenge we face, which is serious and unprecedented.

“There is no easy overnight fix to that challenge. But people should know that I'm very committed to addressing it,” he said.

Mr Sunak has vowed to rebuild trust in the government following Liz Truss's short tenure. Boris Johnson was also forced to step down earlier in the year.

He said he recognised people's anxiety about soaring mortgage repayments and said he would do “absolutely everything” he could to “grip this problem”.

“It's right we're honest about the trade-offs we face — everyone now talks about borrowing, everyone appreciates that the government cannot do everything,” he said.

Mr Sunak declined to comment on whether he stood by the Tory manifesto pledge not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance, according to the report. “I'm not going to talk about any tax policy at all,” he said.

On Thursday, the Bank of England warned the country is facing the longest recession in a century as it hiked base rates by 0.75 percentage points to 3 per cent — their highest level in 15 years.

With many families now facing crippling rises in their monthly mortgage bills, Mr Sunak, a multimillionaire businessman, said he understood their concerns as they worried how to make ends meet.

“I absolutely recognise the anxiety that people have about mortgages. It's one of the biggest bills people have,” he said.

“So what I want to say to people is that I'm going to do absolutely everything I can to grip this problem, to limit the rise in those mortgage rates.

“I think inflation is the number one enemy, as Margaret Thatcher rightly said. Inflation has the biggest impact on those with the lowest incomes. I want to get a grip of inflation.”

With the UK facing an estimated £50 billion black hole in the public finances, Mr Sunak said it was important the government was honest with voters about the “trade-offs” the country faced in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's forthcoming autumn statement.

Mr Sunak acknowledged that after the turmoil of Ms Truss's premiership, the Conservatives urgently needed to rebuild the trust of the public.

He pointed to his own record as chancellor — when he introduced the Covid furlough scheme — as to why people should trust him when it comes to running the economy.

“I completely acknowledge that trust has been damaged over the past few weeks and months. I realise that trust is not given, trust is earned. My job is to regain people's trust,” he said.

“The only thing that people will take away from the summer — hopefully from my track record as chancellor — I'm someone they can trust understands the economy.

“I'm someone they can have confidence in, who will manage us through what will be a difficult economic time. I've got a track record in doing it.”

Mr Sunak also spoke of the significance of becoming the first British Asian, and the first Hindu, to become Prime Minister of the UK.

“It meant a lot of things to a lot of people. As chancellor I was able to light my Diwali Diya's on the steps of Downing Street. It said something wonderful about our country that that was possible, but also that it wasn't a big deal,” he said.

“It was in a sense gosh, this is great but also that's just Britain. That's what you would expect from Britain. Hopefully it's a source of collective pride across the country.”

Updated: November 05, 2022, 4:13 AM