Rishi Sunak has torn up his manifesto of pledges from the summer’s leadership contest, including a 10-point plan to tackle immigration.
The prime minister’s press secretary told reporters that Mr Sunak is in discussions with ministers to determine which of his promises are still “deliverable” and “possible” – and every pledge is on the table.
She also threw into doubt whether the PM regards himself as bound by key pledges from the Tories’ 2019 general election manifesto, like the pensions “triple lock”, or his promise as chancellor to uprate benefits in line with inflation.
And while she said that Mr Sunak remains committed to “the promise of the manifesto”, she indicated that both pensions and benefits are up for grabs in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s 17 November autumn statement.
The moves will give further fuel to demands for an early general election, to allow voters a chance to give the prime minister a mandate to implement the new raft of policies he is drawing up.
The summer leadership contest saw Mr Sunak and Liz Truss announce a wide range of policies as they battled for the affections of the party membership.
In his 10-point immigration plan, Mr Sunak promised to end the “farce” of housing migrants in hotels, introduce tougher and faster asylum processes and set new targets for France to stop small boat crossings of the Channel.
And he also promised a block on housebuilding on the green belt, a year-long VAT holiday for energy bills, a massive expansion of offshore wind power and a legal target to make Britain energy self-sufficient by 2045.
He promised to review all EU-derived law by the end of 2023 and set a long-term target of cutting the basic rate of income tax to 16p by 2029.
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He has already abandoned plans set out over the summer to fine patients £10 for missed NHS appointments and to hold migrants on cruise ships. He has also U-turned on a promise to permit fracking where local communities support it.
But today his press secretary went further, telling a Westminster briefing that, while the “sentiment” of the campaign pledges remains intact, “we are looking at whether it is the right time to take them forward”.
She added: “We need to take some time to make sure what is deliverable and what is possible, and engaging with stakeholders and with the relevant secretaries of state as well.
“Obviously, those are pledges that were made a few months ago now and the context is somewhat different, obviously, economically. We need to look again.”
She said that Mr Sunak was committed to the “promise of the manifesto” from 2019 in general terms but refused to commit to “the promises in the manifesto”, such as the triple lock protection for pensions.
“The context, politically and economically, has changed significantly since that time,” she said. “He is committed to the promise of the manifesto but I’m not going to get drawn into the specifics.”
Asked for examples of manifesto pledges he still supported, she said: “A stronger NHS, better schools and safer streets.”
A senior Labour spokesperson said: “We are now seeing a situation where the government is in total chaos.”
Far from ending the use of hotels for migrants arriving in small boats – as he promised in the leadership campaign – Mr Sunak was now boasting about migrants being moved into hotels from the Manston processing centre in Kent, said the Labour spokesperson.
He added: “What we are seeing is a government bedevilled by its core problem, which is decisions being made for reasons of party management not the national interest.
“Whether it’s the decision on whether to go to the COP27 summit, decisions on policy or decisions on personnel, we are seeing a government simply trying to get by on the basis of party management rather than the national interest.”