Rishi Sunak has said he would put the UK on a “jogging crisis” from his first day as prime minister.
In a speech in Grantham on Saturday, the Lincolnshire home town of Margaret Thatcher, Sunak will try to move the debate on from tax cuts to the NHS by pledging to put the health service on a “war footing” with a vaccines-style taskforce set up to drive down the “emergency” of “massive backlogs”.
Meanwhile, Liz Truss has vowed to review all EU laws retained after Brexit by the end of next year in a “red tape bonfire” if she becomes prime minister, and to scrap or replace those that are deemed to hinder UK growth.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, had pushed for a similar cliff-edge deadline to tear up 2,400 pieces of legislation, but two and a half years later, in June 2026. His plan prompted a cabinet row over feasibility, given the scheduled cull of a fifth of civil service numbers, or about 90,000 jobs.
Experts and union leaders said Truss’s proposals would be enormously difficult to achieve in the context of civil service cuts, with warnings it could end up becoming a “bonfire of rights”.
Truss and Sunak have begun a blitz of policy announcements in an attempt to edge ahead in the Conservative leadership runoff. Ballot papers will start arriving on party members’ doormats in little more than a week, although they have until 2 September to vote.
The pair, who made it through an initial stage of voting by MPs, will take part in a series of hustings events for members, starting in Leeds on Thursday. They will also go head to head in a televised debate on Monday.
In Grantham on Saturday, Sunak will stress his Thatcherite credentials. Warning against “privatisation by the back door”, he will announce plans to eliminate one-year NHS waiting times six months earlier than planned by September 2024, and to get overall numbers falling by next year.
“Waiting times for everything from major surgery to a visit to the GP are at record levels. Millions of people are waiting for life-saving cancer screening, major surgeries and consultations,” he will say.
“People shouldn’t have to make a choice with a gun to their head. If we do not immediately set in train a radically different approach the NHS will come under unsustainable pressure and break.”
The former chancellor told the Times the UK needed to be on a “footing crisis” to deal with inflation and a host of other challenges.
“They’re challenges that are staring us in the face and a business-as-usual mentality isn’t going to cut it in dealing with them. So from day one of being in office I’m going to put us on a crisis jogging.
“Having been inside government I think the system just isn’t working as well as it should,” he is quoted as saying. “And the challenges that I’m talking about, they’re not abstract, they’re not things that are coming long down the track.”
In newspaper interviews this weekend, both candidates also double down on the economic policies that have so far provided the major dividing line of the campaign.
“What I worry about is the inflation we’re seeing now becoming entrenched for longer,” Sunak said. “That’s the risk we need to guard against. If that happens, it will be incredibly damaging for millions across the UK. The cost for families is going to be enormous.”
He also suggests the foreign secretary’s plans could cause interest rates to rise, while rejecting the suggestion he is running a “project fear”.
But in an interview with the Telegraph, Truss defended her economic vision. Describing herself as an “insurgent” who wants to change things, she told the newspaper she wanted the UK to become a “high growth, high productivity, powerhouse”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism