LONDON—Rishi Sunak faced the opposition in Parliament for the first time as Britain’s prime minister Wednesday, promising to restore economic stability after his predecessor’s tax plans triggered market tumult.
Sunak ripped up more of predecessor Liz Truss’ flagship policies, reinstating a moratorium on fracking for shale gas that Truss had lifted. Plans for large-scale deregulation of the economy, part of Truss’ vision to unleash economic growth, are also under review, Sunak’s spokeswoman said.
Sunak, who took office Tuesday, has appointed a government that mixes allies with experienced ministers from the administrations of his two immediate predecessors, Truss and Boris Johnson as he tries to tackle Britain’s multiple economic problems. One of his first acts was to delay a key economic statement by more than two weeks, until November 17, so the government can use the most accurate possible forecasts as it seeks to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
“We will have to take difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence,” Sunak told the House of Commons. “We will do this in a fair way.”
“I will always protect the most vulnerable. We did it in Covid and we will do it again,” he said.
Opposition politicians focused on the baggage his new government carried: ministers from the Cabinets of Johnson—who quit in July after a slew of ethics scandals—and Truss, whose government lasted just seven weeks.
A package of unfunded tax cuts Truss unveiled last month spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record lows and forced the Bank of England to intervene—weakening Britain’s fragile economy and obliterating Truss’ authority within the Conservative Party.
Sunak is seen by Conservatives as a safe pair of hands they hope can stabilize an economy sliding toward recession—and stem the party’s plunging popularity.
Sunak brought in people from different wings of the Conservative Party for his Cabinet. He removed about a dozen members of Truss’ government but kept several senior figures in place, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
He faces a backlash for reappointing Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who resigned last week after breaching 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 leading light of the Conservatives’ right wing who infuriates liberals, Braverman is tasked with fulfilling a controversial, stalled plan to send some asylum-seekers arriving in Britain on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
Sunak denied an allegation by Labour leader Keir Starmer that he had made a “grubby deal” with Braverman in return for her support in the leadership contest.
Opponents expressed astonishment that Braverman could be back in her job less than a week after her resignation, and before an investigation of her breach of the ethics rules.
Sunak said he was happy to have Braverman back in government. He said she “made an error of judgment but she recognized that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.”
Sunak also kept in place Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, whom Truss appointed two weeks ago to steady the markets. His removal likely would have set off new tremors.
Hunt, who had planned to deliver a statement on Oct. 31, will now have a few more weeks to outline the government plans to come up with billions of pounds (dollars) to fill a fiscal hole created by soaring inflation and a sluggish economy, and exacerbated by Truss’ destabilizing plans.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove, brought back to government by Sunak after being fired by Johnson and sidelined by Truss, said it was time for the Conservatives “to get back to the business of Government in a quiet way.”
“After 12 months of turbulence, after a rolling news buffet, an all-you-can eat story extravaganza…boring is back,” he said during a speech in London.