LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak faced opposition in parliament for the first time as British prime minister on Wednesday, seeking to provide assurances that his new government would deliver economic stability and continuity after his predecessor’s tax plans sparked the market uproar.
Sunak, who took office on 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 the multiple economic problems of the Britain. One of the first acts of his government was to delay a key economic statement until November 17, ensuring that the most accurate forecast possible can be taken into account as the government seeks to tackle the crisis in the cost of life.
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He also quietly reinstated a moratorium on fracking that was part of the Conservative Party’s 2019 election platform. Truss had lifted the ban.
“We will have to make tough decisions to restore economic stability and confidence,” Sunak told the House of Commons. “We will do it fairly…I will always protect the most vulnerable. .. we did it in COVID and we will do it again.
Opposition politicians focused on the baggage of his new government: cabinet ministers from Johnson – who resigned in July after a series of ethics scandals – and Truss, whose government lasted just seven weeks.
A package of unfunded tax cuts that Truss unveiled last month spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record highs and forced the Bank of England to intervene , weakening Britain’s fragile economy and shattering Truss’ authority within the Conservative Party.
Sunak is seen by conservatives as a pair of safe hands that they hope can stabilize an economy sliding into recession – and stem the party’s slump in popularity.
Sunak brought in people from different wings of the Conservative Party for his Cabinet. He removed a dozen members of Truss’ government, but kept several figures in place, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
He faced backlash for reappointing Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who resigned last week after breaking 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 right-wing Tory leader who infuriates the Liberals, Braverman is tasked with carrying out a controversial and stalled plan to send asylum seekers arriving in Britain one-way to Rwanda.
Sunak has denied an allegation by Labor leader Keir Starmer that he made a “dirty deal” with Braverman in exchange for his support in the leadership race.
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Opponents expressed astonishment that Braverman could return to work less than a week after his resignation and before an investigation into his breach of ethics rules.
Skillfully defended the choice.
“People make mistakes in their work,” he told the BBC. “No one is going to work with the intention of making a mistake.”
Sunak has also kept in place Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, whom Truss appointed two weeks ago to stabilize markets. Its withdrawal would probably have triggered new tremors.
Hunt, who had planned to make a statement on October 31, will now have a few more weeks to outline the government’s plans to find billions of pounds (dollars) to fill a fiscal hole created by soaring inflation and a gloomy economy, and exacerbated by the destabilizing plans of Truss.