Rishi Sunak has pledged to boost the economy, cut hospital waiting lists and stop migrant crossings in the Channel in his first speech of 2023.
Speaking in Stratford, the prime minister laid out his priorities for 2023 and asked the public to judge his premiership on five promises.
These pledges are: to halve inflation; to grow the economy; to reduce debt; to cut hospital waiting lists; and to stop migrant crossings.
Mr Sunak promised to work “night and day” to deliver on the five challenges during this parliament and to create “a future that restores optimism, hope and pride in Britain”.
Labour accused him of focusing on areas where progress is already predicted over the coming months, and “failing to tackle the big pressures” the country is facing in his “thin” speech.
Speaking to a room of journalists and business people, Mr Sunak said he wanted to make “five pledges to deliver peace of mind” and “five foundations on which to build a better future for our children and grandchildren”.
“First, we will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security,” he said.
“Second, we will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.
“Third, we will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services.
“Fourth, NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.
“Fifth, we will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed.
“So, five promises – we will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats.
“Those are the people’s priorities. They are your government’s priorities. And we will either have achieved them or not.
“No tricks, no ambiguity, we’re either delivering for you or we’re not. We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all. So, I ask you to judge us on the effort we put in and the results we achieve.”
Mr Sunak continued: “People don’t want politicians who promise the earth and then fail to deliver. They want government to focus less on politics and more on the things they care about.
“The cost of living, too high. Waiting times in the NHS, too long. Illegal migration, far too much.
“I think people do accept that many of these challenges are, at least in part, the legacy of COVID and impacted by the war in Ukraine. But that’s not an excuse. We need to address these problems, not just talk about them.”
The prime minister acknowledged the vision he set out may not be delivered in its entirety this year, but concluded: “I will only promise what I can deliver, and I will deliver what I promise.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the issues facing the UK were as a result of Mr Sunak’s own party.
She told Sky News: “They’ve in charge now for 13 years, the Conservatives, and the problems that we see now are a direct result of what’s happened over those last 13 years.
“Whether it’s the fact that as a victim of crime, you often won’t at the justice that you deserve. The fact that so many people are waiting for hours on end in A&E departments and if you try and get through to a GP to get an appointment, often it’s not possible at all.
“That’s the record the Conservative Party over these last 13 years and the empty pledges that we heard from the prime minister I think just show how out of touch he really is with what’s going on out there in the country at the moment.”
Mr Sunak’s speech comes as the UK is facing a wave of strikes, a cost of living crisis and huge pressures on the NHS.
Earlier today, a leading medical organisation said the PM must recall parliament “immediately” so MPs can discuss the “NHS crisis”.
The PM said his government is “taking urgent action” to increase hospital bed capacity by 7,000, adding: “And the NHS is working urgently on future plans for A&E and ambulances.”
He acknowledged that, at present, “patients aren’t receiving the care they deserve” and said “something has to change”.
The PM told his audience that the “most acute” pressure in the NHS is on A&E.
On the continuing industrial action, Mr Sunak called for a “reasonable dialogue” with the unions and promised an update on the government’s next steps.
Responding to his speech, Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, whose members walked out last month, said he “appeared detached from the reality of what is happening and why” in the NHS, claiming the speech “focused on false promise and hollow boasts when practical and urgent measures are required on the part of government”.
Yesterday, the PM’s new mission to combat high rates of innumeracy in England was unveiled through a pledge to ensure all pupils in the country study some form of maths until the age of 18.
Addressing this ambition, Mr Sunak said: “Just imagine what greater numeracy will unlock for – people the skills to feel confident with your finances, to find the best mortgage deal.
“The ability to do your job better and get paid more and greater self-confidence to navigate a changing world.”