Rishi Sunak: I’ll still be Prime Minister on Friday

A defiant Rishi Sunak said the Tories can still win the General Election despite languishing in the polls as he insisted the UK is a better place to live now than in 2010.

The Prime Minister defended the Conservative record in government against what he described as a “declinist narrative” while he faced questions about the state of public services and the economy.

Mr Sunak said it was “completely and utterly wrong” to suggest Britain’s standing has diminished since Brexit, claiming “people are queuing up to work with us because they respect what we do”.

“It’s entirely wrong, this kind of declinist narrative that people have of the UK I wholeheartedly reject,” he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme.

“It (the UK) is a better place to live than it was in 2010.

“Of course I understand that the last few years have been difficult for everyone”.

He cited the pandemic and the war in Ukraine driving up energy bills, insisting “we are now on the right track”.

It was put to him that the UK has become poorer by many measures over the past 14 years the Conservatives have been in power, and that public services are deteriorating.

“I just don’t accept that,” Mr Sunak replied.

“Our schoolchildren are now the best readers in the western world.”

Asked whether he thought he would still be in Downing Street after the election next week, Mr Sunak said: “Yes. I’m fighting very hard and I think people are waking up to the real danger of what a Labour government means.”

Labour said the remarks were “excruciating” and accused the Prime Minister of appearing to “gloss over the concerns of ordinary working people.”

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden ramped up attacks on the opposition party elsewhere during Sunday’s broadcast round as the Conservatives seek to close an opinion poll lead of around 20 points.

Opinion poll tracker
(PA Graphics)

“Mark my words: Dogs bark, cats meow, Labour put up taxes,” he told Sky’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme.

The Tories have pointed to a series of tax rises which Labour has not ruled out, but which are not party policy, along with speculation about granting votes to EU citizens living in the UK, which is also not in Labour’s manifesto.

Mr Dowden warned “the bigger the Labour majority, the bigger the buyer’s remorse”, as he told voters frustrated with the Tory record: “Don’t think about the anger just now”.

“What I would say is just think, think in six months’ time how you’re going to feel. I have a strong feeling the shine is going to come off Labour pretty quickly,” he said.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s excruciating to watch Rishi Sunak just gloss over the concerns of ordinary working people.

“Rishi Sunak has no remorse for his record: prices are up in the shops, NHS waiting lists have rocketed, and mortgages have soared. He just doesn’t understand what the Conservatives have inflicted on voters over the past 14 years.”

campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden with deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper on the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg
Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden with deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/PA)

He said the UK “simply cannot afford five more years of the Tories” with their “pie-in-the-sky, unfunded manifesto”.

“The public has the chance for change, but change will only happen with a vote for Labour on 4 July,” Mr Ashworth said.

Elsewhere, the Prime Minister bolstered his attack Nigel Farage, whose Reform UK Party is embroiled in a racism row after one of its canvassers was filmed by an undercover Channel 4 journalist using a slur to refer to Mr Sunak.

“What was said was deeply inappropriate and racist,” Mr Sunak said.

But he was also questioned about his own handling of racist remarks allegedly made by Tory donor Frank Hester, who reportedly suggested former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women”.

Mr Sunak suggested there was a “clear difference” because Mr Hester had shown “genuine remorse” for his behaviour and because he, as leader, had called the comments out as racist.

“Nigel Farage has just described these comments as ‘inappropriate’; they’re not inappropriate – they were vile and racist and wrong, but he’s only said that they’re inappropriate,” he said.

“The person who made them has only apologised to the Reform Party for the impact it’s had on them. It’s a very clear difference. There’s no contrition or remorse or acceptance of what’s happened in that case.”

Reform leader Mr Farage claimed that Andrew Parker, the campaigner at the heart of the row, is a “paid actor” who was part of a “deliberate attempt to derail our campaign”.

Mr Parker has told the PA news agency his acting work is separate to his volunteering for the party, which he said he started because he was believed in Mr Farage’s message.

A man standing against a blue sky wearing a Reform UK rosette
A screengrab of Reform UK canvasser Andrew Parker who was caught on camera calling Rishi Sunak a racial slur (Channel 4 News/PA)

He has apologised for the remarks and claimed he was “goaded on” to make them “in the heat of the moment.”

Channel 4 has said it did not pay Mr Parker to appear in the footage and stands by “our rigorous and duly impartial journalism which speaks for itself.”

At a Reform rally in Birmingham on Sunday, Mr Farage insisted “the bad apples are gone” from the party after it dropped support for three candidates amid the racism row engulfing the party in the final stages of campaigning.

“Have we had a few bad apples? We have, although to my knowledge nobody involved in an organised betting ring is standing for us, which is something,” he told an audience of thousands of people.

“We’ll never have them back.”

Meanwhile, Labour has promised Sir Keir’s first steps if elected prime minister would be restoring economic stability and cutting NHS waiting lists as “the work of change begins”.

“The country faces a big choice on Thursday. If you vote Tory on Thursday – or don’t vote at all – nothing will change,” the party’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden said.

“Chaos will continue, and they’ll continue to put their own interests before the country’s.”

Touring Sunday’s broadcast studios, Mr McFadden was challenged on his party’s failure to give a timeline for its commitment to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product.

Mr Sunak has pledged to reach the target by 2030, but Labour has said it will be met only when economic conditions allow.

Asked why Sir Keir had not set out a timeline as a priority, Mr McFadden said: “Because date without a proper plan to pay for it is also not a meaningful commitment… he wants to show for everything he commits to exactly how it’s going to be paid for.”

Responding to the Tory claim that Labour would wreck Britain within 100 days of government, Mr McFadden told LBC: “Well, I’m surprised they didn’t say that the sky would fall in and a river would start running red.

“The trouble with that kind of attack is it just proves how out of touch they are because it assumes that the best that this country can do is how it’s doing at the moment.”