British prime minister warns of 'axis of authoritarian states' in pre-election speech

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has warned of a dangerous future for the U.K. in a pitch to voters ahead of a future national election that could see Conservatives ousted from power after 14 years

Brian Melley
Monday 13 May 2024 15:19 BST

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned of a dangerous future for the U.K. in a pitch to voters Monday as he fights to hang on to power ahead of a future national election that could see Conservatives ousted after 14 years.

Sunak's speech swung from ominous warning to optimistic projections as he repeatedly attacked Labour leader Keir Starmer, saying he lacked a plan for dealing with rogue states and harnessing a period of a great opportunity.

Sunak said his pledge to increase military spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030 better positions his party to confront an “axis of authoritarian states” that he named as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The war in Ukraine, Iranian proxies attacking ships in the Red Sea and Chinese cyberattacks aimed at members of Parliament are some of those threats, he said.

“Over the next few years, from our democracy to our society to our economy to the hardest questions of war and peace, almost every aspect of our lives is going to change," Sunak said. "How we act in the face of those changes, not only to keep people safe and secure but to realize the opportunities too, will determine whether or not Britain will succeed in the years to come.”

His speech at Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank, came just over a week after his party was rocked in local elections and ahead of a general election at which Labour is widely seen as likely to win control of Parliament.

Sunak has until Dec. 17 to call an election that will take place 25 working days later. He has said he would do so in the second half of the year but has refused say when, as opponents repeated calls for him to do so.

“This Conservative government is out of touch and out of time and Rishi Sunak must do the right thing and give the people a general election,” Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said.

Sunak said Labour was trying to “depress their way to victory” with “talk of doom loops” and “scaremongering about pensions.”

“They have just one thing: a calculation that they can make you feel so bad about your country, that you won’t have the energy to ask what they might do with the incredible power that they seek to yield,” Sunak said.

Jonathan Ashworth, a Labour member of Parliament, called the speech a “desperate attempt to hide from the appalling record of this failed Tory government.”

“After 14 years of leaving the country less secure at home and abroad, the Tories have forfeited the right to talk about security,” Ashworth said. “Millions of people are paying more on their mortgages, crime is going unsolved, dangerous prisoners are being let out early, the armed forces have been hollowed out and the (National Health Service) is on its knees.”

Sunak acknowledged public uncertainty and anxiety but said some of that was due to global upheavals such as the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that despite “storms ahead," Britain could feel proud and confident again as “transformational technologies,” such as artificial intelligence, could bring progress.

“The paradox of our age is that for all the profound dangers that we face, right now we also hold in our hands an opportunity for human progress that could surpass the industrial revolution in speed and breadth," he said. "Technologies like AI will do for the 21st century what the steam engine and electricity did for the 19th.”

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