General election ‘not what the country wants’, says PM

Rishi Sunak has claimed a general election is “not what the country wants”, despite insisting he is unafraid of going to the polls.

Sky News’s political editor Beth Rigby put it to the prime minister that he was a “man without a mandate” – having lost the Tory leadership election last year, before being appointed weeks later without a vote from members.

But Mr Sunak said he was “just getting on” with the job and “delivering” on long-term policy plans.

And when asked if he would still be prime minister after the next election, he replied: “Of course”.

Politics live: Downing Street has ‘lost control’ of HS2 announcement

Speaking during the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the prime minister also refused to admit if a decision had been taken over scrapping the northern leg of HS2 – despite Downing Street dropping heavy hints an announcement could come in his conference speech on Wednesday.

The Conservatives were re-elected back in 2019 when Boris Johnson was at the helm, securing an 80-seat majority to give him power over parliament.

More on Hs2

After his downfall last year, the summer was spent on a leadership election, with Liz Truss winning the support of Tory members come September 2022.

But when she was ousted after just 49 days in office, Mr Sunak was only selected by some of his party’s MPs, leading to accusations on the backbenches that it was “undemocratic” and a “coronation”.

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Truss: ‘Make Britain grow again’

Asked by Beth Rigby why he wasn’t putting his plans to the country in a general election to secure a mandate, the prime minister replied: “Because that’s not what the country wants.”

He added: “I go out [and] about every day. That’s not what anybody wants. What people want is politicians making a difference to their lives.”

Pushed on whether he was scared of an election after months of falling behind in the polls, Mr Sunak said: “Not at all, I am just getting on and delivering for people.

“You can see that with net zero. You can see it with the number of boat crossings down this year by a fifth. You can see it with our progress on bringing inflation down, helping people. You can see it with a long-term workforce plan, hiring doctors and nurses for the future.

“These are all things that are going to change our country for the better. It’s an example of the type of leadership that I am bringing.”

Read more:
‘Make Britain grow again’ – Truss echoes Trump in speech
HS2 revelation could not be more disruptive for Sunak

The topic that has dominated this week’s conference is the future of HS2, with Sky News reporting on Monday that the northern leg of the high-speed rail line between Birmingham and Manchester will be axed after weeks of speculation.

But while Downing Street said officially that “no final decisions have been taken”, sources gave Sky News’ Mhari Aurora “the heaviest hint yet” an announcement would feature in the prime minister’s conference speech on Wednesday – and his remarks would be “worth waiting for”.

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Osborne: ‘Tragedy to shelve HS2’

Questioned over whether he had made up his mind, Mr Sunak revealed nothing, dismissing “speculation” and adding: “I approach all these things carefully, thoughtfully, rigorously.”

But pressed multiple times over whether he had made the call to announce it tomorrow, the prime minister said: “I think it’s right that I’m not going to get forced into making premature decisions, not on something that’s so important that it costs this country tens of billions of pounds.”

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He also denied that the conference had descended into chaos over the topic – as well as the return of Ms Truss and her calls for tax cuts – instead claiming Tory members had “a spring in their step” and “really support” his plans.

Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, said: “We’ve had 13 years of Tory failure. The prime minister isn’t a cure for that failure – he’s a product of it. And every day the Tories stay in power it all just carries on.

“He is too weak to take on all the competing factions and contenders already jockeying to replace him. The sooner the election comes the better because it’s time to turn the page on the Tory years and start to rebuild Britain.”

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