LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Britons that the problems bedevilling the country will not disappear in 2023, a warning that prompted the Labour Party to accuse the government of wrecking the economy.
In his first New Year’s address as prime minister, Mr Sunak struck a sombre tone, acknowledging that it had been a difficult year for the country.
“I am not going to pretend that all our problems will go away in the new year,” he said in the video message posted on Twitter on Saturday. “Just as we recovered from an unprecedented global pandemic, Russia launched a barbaric and illegal invasion across Ukraine.”
Mr Sunak was 2022’s third prime minister following Mr Boris Johnson and Ms Liz Truss, who both resigned after losing the confidence of the ruling Tory party.
The former Goldman Sachs banker has had to contend with difficulties for the nation at home and abroad in a tumultuous year. He promised to continue to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and said he had made tough decisions to get the country’s borrowing and debt under control.
Mr Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition party, also acknowledged that it had been a tough year and said the country “needs to change”.
But a later message from Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves homed in on the wave of public sector strikes affecting transport and hospitals, and on the government’s reluctance to negotiate with unions.
“The Tories’ approach is increasingly reckless in allowing these strikes to continue with no effort to resolve them,” she told the Observer newspaper. “Sitting on the sidelines is now just another way in which the Tories are sabotaging the UK economy.”
The Labour Party, which has been out of government for more than 12 years, is well ahead in opinion polls following the chaotic year under Mr Sunak’s Conservatives.
People Polling had the Conservatives 26 points behind in a survey for GB News released on Dec 30, with some pollsters giving Mr Starmer a lead of as many as 36 points earlier in the year. The Tories must call a general election by January 2025 at the latest.
“For Britain to become a fairer, greener, more dynamic country, we need a completely new way of doing politics,” Mr Starmer said in his video message. “We must renew our vow to change our country for the better; 2023 is a new chapter for Britain.” BLOOMBERG