Rishi Sunak insists his economic plan is working as he asks voters for optimism in 2024

PM claims economy on the mend, as he gears up for general election while trailing badly in polls

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 22:34
Sunak switches on Downing Street Christmas tree lights

Rishi Sunak has said the public should look forward with “pride and optimism” to 2024 as he insisted his plan for Britain’s economy was already working.

The PM urged voters to focus on the promise of a “brighter future” in a new year’s message, as he gears up for a general election campaign in the months ahead.

Mr Sunak has already said he will call an election in 2024, with the Tories battling to cling on to power as opinion polls point to a huge and consistent Labour lead.

The Tory leader used his message to claim he was “getting the economy growing” and promised to “further to grow our economy” next year.

The PM may have met his promise to halve inflation in 2023 but a key pledge for growth was dealt a big blow earlier this month by figures showing GDP fell between July and September.

Mr Sunak highlighted an upcoming cut to national insurance as an example of change under his leadership, and boasted of “decisive action” to stop migrant boats in the Channel.

However, he faces calls from rebellious MPs in his own party to go further on tax cuts, and toughen up his flagship Rwanda bill to get deportation flights started by the spring.

Rishi Sunak faces a struggle to push his Rwanda bill through parliament, then get flights off by spring

MPs in the “five families” of the Tory right – including Brexiteers the European Research Group (ERG) – have threatened to kill the bill if the government does not agree to amendments in the new year.

Top legal adviser David Pannick is said have warned Mr Sunak’s government that the Rwanda bill may not get flights started as planned because it still allows individual legal appeals.

A source familiar with the discussions told The Telegraph: “Lord Pannick acknowledged that without addressing individual claims the scheme would be severely impeded.”

In his new year message, Mr Sunak said his “resolution” would be to “keep driving forward”. The PM said: “Inflation is set to fall further, cutting the cost of living for everyone. And we’re not stopping there.

“We’re going further to grow our economy by reducing debt, cutting taxes, and rewarding hard work, building secure supplies of energy here at home, backing British business and delivering world-class education.”

Mr Sunak added: “And we’re taking decisive action to stop the boats and break the business model of the criminal gangs.”

The Tory leader’s focus on tax-cutting in his new year message comes after the government announced the main rate of national insurance will be reduced from 12 to 10 per cent from 6 January.

There is speculation that the Tories could make more attention-grabbing pledges in the pre-election spring Budget – including ditching inheritance tax.

Reports suggest death duties could possibly be slashed or scrapped, as Mr Sunak desperately looks for ways to turn around his party’s huge polls deficit and create policy dividing lines with Labour.

However, former Conservative chancellor Norman Lamont has urged Mr Sunak to ignore calls from MPs on the right. The Tory grandee said he does not “buy” the argument that the tax on inherited wealth is widely hated – telling the PM to focus on cutting income tax instead.

Mr Sunak also thanked “our incredible armed forces and NHS staff who take care of us all”. The message comes between strikes by junior doctors in England, with the longest walkout in NHS history due to begin on 3 January.

He ended by saying: “We should look forward full of pride and optimism for what we can do together to build a brighter future for everyone. That’s what I’m determined to do, and I wish you all a very happy 2024.”

By building expectations of a contest this spring, Labour is setting the stage to accuse Mr Sunak of “bottling it” if he holds on until the autumn.

Sir Keir Starmer has challenged voters in his new year’s message – saying the future of Britain “rests in their hands” at the upcoming general election.

The Labour leader will use his end-of-year address to deliver an election-themed message, framing 2024 as the year to “give Britain its future back”.

He will say it has also been another tough year economically for millions – but that hope “is the fuel of change” and “the oxygen of a better future”.

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