Rishi Sunak declares he does not want to become prime minister

Sunak also hints of tax rises ahead as he says governments have sacred duty to balance books

Kate Devlin
Monday 05 October 2020 17:11 BST
Rishi Sunak speaks of ‘difficult trade-offs’ due to Covid crisis

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has declared that he has no ambition to become prime minister, saying his current job is hard enough.

Asked at the Conservative Party virtual conference if he someday wanted to inherit the keys to No 10, Mr Sunak replied: "God, no. Definitely not seeing what the Prime Minister has to deal with. 

"This is a job hard enough for me to do." 

He also spoke of his "close personal friendship" with Boris Johnson following rumours of a rift between the two men. 

But while Mr Johnson calls him "Rish", Mr Sunak is more formal, he revealed. 

"I call him prime minister,” he said. “He keeps trying to tell me to call him other things... but I just stick with PM." 

Mr Sunak has robustly defended his flagship Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offered diners half-price meals in restaurants in August, against the charge that it helped fuel the rise in coronavirus cases. 

But at the weekend the prime minister did not deny the hugely popular offer could have led to an increase in infections. 

During his conference speech Mr Sunak hinted of tax rises ahead as he said governments had a “sacred” duty to balance the nation’s books.

Ministers have spent billions of pounds keeping the economy afloat in recent months, including on the wages of millions of workers under the furlough scheme.

But Mr Sunak, who is under increasing pressure over his decision to end furlough payments  this month despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases, said ministers could not go on spending forever.

He told the event, held online because of the Covid-19 crisis: “If ... we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us.”

He added that there were "hard choices” to make as he pledged to balance the books, despite the global pandemic.

He told his party faithful: "We will protect the public finances over the medium term, getting our borrowing and debt back under control.

"We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong, and through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books.”

He added: "I have never pretended there is some easy cost-free answer.

"Hard choices are everywhere."

During the speech Mr Sunak reiterated that he could not save every job in the UK.

But he told those fearful of unemployment “the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service.

"We will not let talent wither or waste, we will help all who want it, find new opportunity and develop new skills."

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said that Mr Sunak's speech suggested he had not "grasped the magnitude of the jobs crisis we're facing".

Speaking on a visit to an injection moulding plant in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, she said: "The chancellor appeared mainly to list what he had already done, in the winter statement for example.

"He didn't suggest that any additional measures would be taken.

"We really need targeted support where we need it to keep people in work, to help those people who have already become unemployed and sadly there was nothing from the chancellor today to suggest that he grasped the magnitude of the jobs crisis we're facing."

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