Rishi Sunak faced the opposition in Parliament for the first time as Britain’s prime minister Wednesday, seeking to provide assurances that his new government would offer economic stability and continuity after his predecessor’s tax plans triggered market tumult.
Sunak, who took office Tuesday, has appointed a government that mixes allies with experienced ministers from the administrations of his two immediate predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, as he tries to tackle Britain’s multiple economic problems. One of his government’s first acts was to delay a key economic statement until Nov. 17, ensuring the most accurate possible forecasts can be considered as the government seeks to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
“We will have to take difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence,” Sunak told the House of Commons. “We will do this in a fair way… I will always protect the most vulnerable. .. we did that in COVID and we will do that again.”
Opposition politicians focused on the baggage his new government carried: ministers from the Cabinets of Johnson — who quit in July after a slew of ethics scandals — and Truss, whose government lasted just seven weeks.
A package of unfunded tax cuts Truss unveiled last month spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record lows and forced the Bank of England to intervene — weakening Britain’s fragile economy and obliterating Truss’ authority within the Conservative Party.
Sunak is seen by Conservatives as a safe pair of hands they hope can stabilize an economy sliding toward recession — and stem the party’s plunging popularity.
Sunak brought in people from different wings of the Conservative Party for his Cabinet. He removed about a dozen members of Truss’ government but kept several senior figures in place, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
He faced a backlash for reappointing Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who resigned last week after breaching ethics rules by sending a sensitive government email from a private account. She used her resignation letter to criticize Truss, hastening the then-prime minister’s departure.
A leading light of the Conservatives’ right wing who infuriates liberals, Braverman is tasked with fulfilling a controversial, stalled plan to send some asylum-seekers arriving in Britain on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
Sunak denied an allegation by Labour leader Keir Starmer that he had made a “grubby deal” with Braverman in return for her support in the leadership contest.
Opponents expressed astonishment that Braverman could be back in her job less than a week after her resignation, and before an investigation of her breach of the ethics rules.
Cleverly defended the choice.
“People make mistakes in their work,” he told the BBC. “No one goes to work with the intention of making a mistake.”
Sunak also kept in place Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, whom Truss appointed two weeks ago to steady the markets. His removal likely would have set off new tremors.
Hunt, who had planned to deliver a statement on Oct. 31, will now have a few more weeks to outline the government plans to come up with billions of pounds (dollars) to fill a fiscal hole created by soaring inflation and a sluggish economy, and exacerbated by Truss’ destabilizing plans.