I understand voters’ frustrations, Sunak says in live TV grilling
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Rishi Sunak has insisted that he understands the country’s frustrations after 14 years of Conservative-led government, as he faced an hour-long grilling in front of a live TV audience.
In something of a rehearsal for a general election campaign later this year, the Prime Minister faced questions from GB News viewers on the NHS, his Rwanda asylum plan and why right-wing voters should back the Tories.
Facing a cross-section of voters in Co Durham, one audience member pressed him on why traditional Tory voters should back his party over the Nigel Farage-founded Reform UK.
The Prime Minister told the questioner he could “completely appreciate your frustration”, as he switched between attacking Labour and defending the Tories’ record.
“It’s been a tough couple of years,” he said.
“When we go through the things that we’ve been through as a country, energy bills more than doubling again, (but) starting to come down, the economic strain that’s put on all your family budgets, the impact of Covid on NHS backlogs waiting for appointments, all of those things are real things that will cause you and everyone else an enormous amount of frustration.
“I can completely understand that, but I think fundamentally, what you want and what I want are the same.”
The 60-minute questions and answers session, a similar format to the PM Connect events the Prime Minister has held across the country, saw few questions on tax cuts or the cost-of-living crisis.
The absence prompted a surprised Mr Sunak to joke: “I can’t imagine all of you are really happy about the tax you’re paying and don’t want to complain.”
But elsewhere during the event, he was pressed on NHS backlogs, while also being forced to defend his flagship Rwanda policy.
As peers in the House of Lords debated draft legislation aimed at sending asylum seekers to Kigali, one voter asked Mr Sunak why he was “so adamant” about the Rwanda policy “when public documentation shows it isn’t working and that it’s not going to work”.
He responded: “We need to be able to say pretty simply and unequivocally that if you come to our country illegally, you won’t get to stay.
“We want to be able to remove you either to your home country if it’s safe, like we’ve done with Albania, and for everyone else we need an alternative and that’s what Rwanda is about.
“So yes, we’ve made progress – down by third – but in order to fully solve this problem, we need a deterrent. That’s what Rwanda is all about and that is why I’m absolutely committed to getting this bill through Parliament and getting this scheme up and running.”
Questioned on the NHS, he once again blamed the pandemic for the backlogs facing the health system.
He said: “Whoever was prime minister, whoever was standing here tonight, there will be backlogs in the NHS because of what happened. You all know that, you are fair-minded people.”
Mr Sunak insisted ministers were investing “more money than the NHS has ever had”, and large numbers of doctors and nurses were being trained for the long term.
He added: “I probably will not be around in the 14 years that it takes to train the consultant that we’re now starting to invest in, but it’s the right long-term thing to do for our country, which is why I’ve done it.”
Asked in the final few minutes about tax, he repeated his message that the Government would cut it when it is “responsible”.
The Prime Minister faces potentially gloomy economic numbers later this week, with official figures on Thursday set to show whether the UK has slipped into a recession.
But Mr Sunak told GB News viewers: “When it’s responsible to do so, of course we want to keep cutting your taxes because that is important to me, because it’s as I said about rewarding hard work, but it’s got to be done as part of a plan, and because we’ve got a plan and that plan, as I said right at the beginning, is starting to work.
“You can see it if we stick with it, then there are better times ahead.”