LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to halve inflation, grow the U.K. economy and stop illegal immigration Wednesday as he set out his Conservative government's priorities in his first major speech of 2023.
Sunak focused on tackling the U.K.'s slowing economy and made promises to reduce national debt. He also vowed to pass new laws to stop migrants from arriving on U.K. shores in small boats, as well as cut massive backlogs in Britain's public health service.
“Those are the people’s priorities. They are your government’s priorities. And we will either have achieved them or not," Sunak said.
“No trick, no ambiguity, we’re either delivering for you or we’re not. We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all,” he added.
Sunak, who came to office in October after a tumultuous year in U.K. politics that saw the resignation of two other prime ministers, stressed that he would deliver stability. He said his first priority was to “halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security."
Sunak's predecessor, Liz Truss, unveiled a disastrous package of unfunded tax cuts in September and was forced to quit after less than two months in the job. Her policies sent the British pound tumbling, drove up the cost of borrowing and triggered emergency intervention from Britain's central bank.
Since Sunak replaced Truss in late October, the U.K. economy has calmed but his government is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis and widening labor unrest as key public sector workers from nurses and ambulance drivers to train workers stage disruptive strikes to demand better pay to keep pace with soaring inflation.
Inflation in the U.K. stood at 10.7% in November — down slightly from October — but that's still near the highest in four decades. Energy and food costs have soared, in large part driven by Russia's war on Ukraine, and living standards have plunged for millions of Britons.
In recent weeks, Sunak's government was also under increasing pressure to address failings in the public health system, with many frontpage headlines focusing on the lack of hospital beds and record waiting times for seeing a doctor or getting an ambulance.
Authorities have blamed high numbers of flu and COVID-19 cases, but health chiefs say the problems are longstanding and a result of chronic government underfunding.
Sunak has also repeatedly said that stopping migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats to claim asylum in the U.K. was a top priority for his term in office. Last year more than 45,700 people crossed the Channel to the U.K. — a record high and up 60% compared to numbers in 2021.
“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,” Sunak said.
Sunak's Conservative Party, which has been in power for 12 years, is lagging behind the opposition Labour Party in polls. The next general election is due to take place by the end of 2024.