Wednesday evening news briefing: PM unveils five promises

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It has been a baptism of fire for Rishi Sunak since he entered Downing Street, with rail strikes grinding the country to a halt and the NHS in the midst of a winter crisis. The Prime Minister sought to take the offensive today by defining what he wants his premiership to deliver – but are his promises achievable? The first one was to halve inflation – something Mr Sunak has long put down as one of the defining challenges of his tenure in Number 10 after Liz Truss’s economic plan sent interest rates soaring. The Consumer Prices Index, the most commonly used measure for inflation, was 9.3 per cent in the year to November. A significant drop is expected this year. Forecasts for the Office of Budget Responsibility expected inflation to peak around 11 per cent at the end of last year and drop so much that a halving is possible. But much may depend on external factors, such as whether Vladimir Putin’s triggers a fresh Russian push in Ukraine or further tighten gas exports.

Mr Sunak has made it his mission to rescue the Tories’ reputation for economic competence and pledged to “make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services”. However, economic experts already expect debt to fall over the next two years. In his speech, the Prime Minister also pledged to “grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country”. The words are designed to offer hope that the Conservatives under his leadership have more to offer than just tax rises. However, this pledge could be viewed as rather woolly, with experts having already said the economy is likely to grow as the worst effects of the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine recede. Tom Harris writes that Britain’s problems are “too serious for tinkering” and “if the Prime Minister doesn’t grasp that he will face Jim Callaghan’s fate”.

‘Cut waiting lists’

NHS waiting lists are at record levels thanks to the Covid backlog and winter pressures. In his speech, the Prime Minister promised that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”. But how easy will this be? Experts have warned that waiting lists will continue to rise well into this year as previously-undiagnosed problems become apparent. Dan Martin and Ben Riley-Smith write that Mr Sunak is gambling that the turnaround takes place well in advance of the next election, but if problems get worse – and industrial action continues – he could find his pledge very difficult to achieve.

‘Stop the boats’

Finally, the Prime Minister made what could be the hardest pledge of all to meet – tackling the rising level of illegal immigration across the Channel. Mr Sunak said his government would “pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”. More than 45,000 people crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats last year, up 60 per cent on the previous year. The huge increase came despite attempts by successive home secretaries to get to grips with the problem – revealing just how challenging this promise may be to keep.

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World news: Putin sends hypersonic missiles past UK

President Vladimir Putin has sent a warship armed with new hypersonic cruise missiles on a training mission past Britain to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean. In a video conference with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Igor Krokhmal, commander of the frigate named “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov”, Putin said the ship was armed with Zircon hypersonic weapons. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defence repeated unverified claims that unauthorised use of mobile phones gave Ukraine coordinates to carry out one of the most deadly single strikes on a Russian position.

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