13 May 2024

UK facing ‘most dangerous time country has ever known’ says Sunak

Political Editor

Rishi Sunak has warned that the UK faces the most dangerous few years it has ever known, under the threat from authoritarian states like Russia and China.

In what sounded very much like an electioneering speech, Mr Sunak said voters could trust him to keep the country safe, and claimed that he, rather than the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, had a plan to make Britain strong again.

There was a lot in this campaign speech with a lot of issues crammed in, for some tastes, probably too much. Everything from the dangerous world, to ‘wokery’, to cancer queues. But what Rishi Sunak was fundamentally trying to say was “the world’s a dangerous place, trust me, you know me”.

And this is a long way from a message that he was trying out a few months ago in his main party conference speech. There, he was saying he was the candidate of change. He’s parked that completely. And that message has completely gone to one side. Instead, we’ve got the continuity one, the security one. And he’s saying: “Trust my party, don’t judge the Conservative Party if you don’t like us, how Labour would like to judge us on the 49 days of Liz Truss. He didn’t say Liz Truss’ name, but he meant that period of her premiership. Judge us on some of the achievements of the 14 years we’ve been in power.”

At the end of his speech, I asked a question about Sunak calling for the country to trust not just him but the Conservative Party – coming a few months since he was saying they were part of the failed consensus of the last 30 years. At the same time he is drawing attention to the record that people should be proud of for the last 14 years. So which is it? And do you even trust the Conservative Party?

“I’ve not for one second pretended everything about the last 14 years is perfect. Of course not,” Sunak responded. “It would be wrong to do that. I’m not doing that. But I am proud of the record. I was proud of the record when I made that speech too. But the choice of election is about the future. In a more dangerous time, who can you trust to keep you safe? And it is only the Conservatives that have the bold actions required, the clear plan required to keep this country safe and give our families a secure future.”

The prime minister is also running into some fresh trouble over the Rwanda pledge, surrounding the ‘stop the boats’ policy and surrounding plans.

For some context,  when we talked about the Brexit deal and its relationship to Northern Ireland, we talked a lot about trade barriers, checks on goods, and the rest of it. But something else that the European Union entrenched in the Northern Ireland element of the Brexit deal was setting in stone the rights that Northern Ireland people had the day before Brexit.

That is a key part of that agreement, and today it came back to bite the government on that Rwanda policy, because the High Court in Belfast has said under that law, people from Northern Ireland cannot be deported to Rwanda. The government is saying it’s going to appeal this, but many politicians are already piping up in Northern Ireland and saying this means Northern Ireland will become a magnet for people who are facing potential deportation from the rest of the UK. They’ll be coming across on the ferry to Northern Ireland and there are no checks there, and will feel that they’re safe from the government policy.

The UK government is saying the policy’s on track to get the cohort that it has identified for removal this summer on planes. But I think this does store up quite a lot of problems further down the track and will be just a taste of the legal challenges to come in from all sorts of different directions.