Rishi Sunak has pledged to halve inflation and bring down NHS waiting lists as he promised to deliver “peace of mind” in his first major speech of the year.
The Prime Minister said his Government would pass new laws to stop small boats making illegal Channel crossings among his priorities for 2023 and claimed “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.
He told the audience in Stratford, East London that his promises reflected “the people’s priorities”.
However, opponents criticised the message as “out of touch,” branding the pledges “flimsy”.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said the speech was “an advert for why Scotland needs independence”.
The Government has blamed high numbers of flu cases, Covid-19 and Strep A fears for the particular pressures the NHS faced over Christmas, even as health leaders have warned that the problems are longstanding and cannot solely be pinned on the pandemic.
Sunak, whose Government has promised legislation in the new year to tackle illegal Channel crossings, said: “We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed.”
“First, we will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security,” he added
“Second, we will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.
“Third, we will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services.”
“So, five promises. We will: Halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats.”
Asked about plans to revoke EU laws by the end of the year, and if he will give assurance that there will not be a huge upheaval at the end of the year, Sunak said he wanted to create “an economy built on innovation”.
But Flynn, who took over from Ian Blackford as the SNP’s Westminster spokesperson in November, said Sunak had “failed to show any willingness to repair Britain’s relationship with Europe”.
He added: “He [Sunak] spoke at length about improving numeracy – yet offered no hope to those weighed down by the harsh figures that are preventing them from heating their homes, putting food on the table or paying their mortgages.
“On Westminster’s watch Scots are energy rich but fuel poor, our businesses are struggling to trade with Europe, our public sector has been hampered by the end of free movement of people and another generation of young people are facing a future of high costs and low pay.”
He added: “This speech was an opportunity for Rishi Sunak to fix the Broken Britain that Westminster has created, to mend a broken relationship with the EU, to pay public sector workers what they are worth and to protect those who need help the most. He did none of those things.
“Instead, the Prime Minister made five flimsy promises, whilst people in Scotland are paying the price of five Tory Prime Ministers over the last 13 years. Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss and now Sunak have all made plenty of promises – what they have actually delivered is austerity, Brexit and a denial of Scottish democracy.
“Independence is the only way to keep Scotland safe from the constant crisis and long-term damage being imposed by Westminster.”