Rishi Sunak is set to ditch his flagship Conservative leadership campaign pledges, as No 10 admitted there would be a review to assess whether they were still “deliverable” as a result of the worsening economic backdrop.
It means Sunak is likely to abandon key promises on immigration in a week when both the prime minister and the home secretary have come under criticism for dangerous overcrowding at an immigration centre.
The prime minister’s press secretary said ministers “need to look again” at a slew of promises made over the summer during Sunak’s losing battle with Liz Truss for the Tory leadership, but there was no end date to the review.
Among some of the policies that have become politically embarrassing for Sunak are a “10-point plan on migration” that includes issues that have become flashpoints over the past week engulfing his home secretary, Suella Braverman.
The points from the leadership campaign include:
Ending the use of hotels to house asylum seekers by delivering thousands of new beds.
Setting a target that 80% of claims are resolved within six months of being lodged.
Using cruise ships to house asylum seekers while their claims are processed.
Sunak would face an enormous challenge to meet the 80% target, with the most recent figures suggesting only 4% of people who crossed the Channel in small boats in 2021 have had a decision within six months.
Whitehall officials had previously warned that holding people on cruise ships would breach the 1951 refugee convention preventing “arbitrary detainment”. Sunak had first suggested the idea in 2020, when it was dismissed on cost grounds.
No 10’s admission comes after a series of policy U-turns by Sunak, including an announcement he would be going to the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt next week days after Downing Street said he was not planning to attend.
Other pledges include promises to protect the greenbelt from planning laws, charging patients for GP appointments if they miss one, cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 16p by the end of the next parliament and reviewing and repealing all retained EU law within 100 days.
“We are looking at all the campaign pledges and we are looking at whether it is the right time to take them forward,” Sunak’s spokesperson said. “We need to take some time to make sure what is deliverable and what is possible, and engaging with stakeholders and with the relevant secretaries of state as well.
“Obviously, those are pledges that were made a few months ago now and the context is somewhat different, obviously, economically. We’re not making commitments right now either way. We need to look again.”
She added that Sunak still backed the “sentiment” of the campaign pledges, as well as hinting that promises he made as chancellor could also be up for review given the different economic context.
The prime minister remained committed to the 2019 Conservative manifesto overall, she said, but did not expand on specifics. Earlier, in the Commons, Sunak had refused to say whether he would stick to the manifesto pledge on the pensions triple lock.
His spokesperson said: “Those things which have fiscal implications those are things the chancellor is considering with the prime minister. Obviously the economic context has changed significantly, not just in the last few months but also with the pandemic and the global macro-economic situation and also Putin’s invasion.”
Sunak has already dropped his plans to fine patients £10 for missing GP appointments and scrap or reform all EU legislation by the next election, both campaign pledges. He has also backed down on fracking after saying in the summer he would back the controversial practice “with local consent” but subsequently reinstating the ban.
In yet another U-turn, Sunak is to attend Cop27 next week after No 10 said previously he was too focused on the domestic economy to attend and banned King Charles from going, days after Boris Johnson announced he was attending.
A Labour spokesperson said: “I think what we’re seeing is a government that is bedevilled by its core problem – and that is that decisions are being made for reasons of party management, not in the national interest.
“Look at why we’ve got Suella Braverman as home secretary in the first place. She’s purely there because of a deal that was done during the course of the Tory leadership election.
“Whether it’s on the decision to go to Cop27, whether it’s on decisions of policy, whether it’s on decisions of personnel, you’ll see a government that is simply trying to get by on the basis of party political management rather than the national interest, and that’s not the way the country should be run.”