Rishi Sunak's five pledges could be in peril ahead of a general election

Rishi Sunak delivering his first major domestic speech in January. Credit: PA

By ITV News Westminster Producer, Lucy McDaid

"We're either delivering for you, or we're not", Rishi Sunak said exactly six months ago as he delivered what was arguably the most important speech of his political premier.

Outlining five flagship priorities for his Conservative government, the Prime Minister made it clear that the British public could judge him on how he delivers on those pledges.

In January of this year, Mr Sunak said he would halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut NHS waiting lists and stop the boats.

"We will either have achieved them or not," he told a press briefing, telling journalists and MPs that his aim for the year was to "rebuild trust in politics through action."

But six months on and the prime minister's pledges are in peril, with the NHS waiting list at a record high and the government's controversial plan to stop the boats currently stuck before yet another legal obstacle.

The prime minister's spokesperson insists he has "rightly ambitious targets" that were "never going to be easy", adding: "It will be for the public to judge at the appropriate time, obviously not least at the next election."

Crucially, Mr Sunak avoided putting a timeline on the completion of his five pledges.

However, six months on it's safe to say he faces a mammoth challenge to make significant progress by the end of this year.

So, what has become of Rishi Sunak's five pledges?

Rishi Sunak has made a commitment to ‘stop the boats’ which bring migrants across the Channel Credit: PA

1. Halve inflation this year

We started 2023 with inflation above 10%, so Mr Sunak needs to get it down to around 5% in order to tick off this pledge as a success.

But with the figure still stubbornly high, and food and drink inflation at record levels, this pledge seems to be creating more of a challenge than was initially predicted.

The latest inflation figure shows prices were rising at a rate of 8.7% in May, spurring the Bank of England to hike interest rates again and put more pressure on mortgage holders.

Mr Sunak must trust the central bank's decisions and continue to restrict spending in a bid to get inflation down, no doubt prompting more assurances from the PM that he has to make "difficult decisions" in order to encourage long-term prosperity.

2. Reduce debt

For the first time since 1961, UK debt was more than 100% of economic output when public sector borrowing doubled in May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Net government debt hit 100.1% of GDP, partly as a result of energy support schemes still being rolled out and increases in both benefit payments and staff costs.

The gloomy debt pile makes it unlikely Mr Sunak will be able to introduce any welcome tax cuts ahead of the next general election.

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3. Grow the economy

The prime minister's spokesperson acknowledged there is "clearly still a great deal of work to be done" on this pledge, but pointed to the fact we have avoided a recession as an indication of progress.

"We were predicted to fall into a recession. That has not happened," he told reporters.

"Avoiding recession by any government, particularly when you're seeing countries like Germany not be able to maintain that path, is good to see, but clearly there is still a great deal of work to be done."

4. Cut NHS waiting lists

Last week, Mr Sunak hailed his government's long-awaited and radical plan for the NHS in England as "the biggest ever expansion in the number of doctors and nurses that we train," providing some hope that waiting lists could be one beneficiary of the investment.

However, the transformational plan is unlikely to make much difference before voters head to the polls in the next general election, which must be held before January 2025.

Added to this is the fact that the overall NHS waiting list is the longest it has ever been.

When Mr Sunak outlined his five priorities at the beginning of this year, 7.2 million people were waiting for routine hospital treatment - that number now stands at 7.4 million.

Throw in ongoing NHS strikes and workforce shortages, and the prime minister's pledge to cut waiting lists remains incredibly tough for Mr Sunak and his health secretary.

Some 648,000 appointments, procedures and operations have been postponed as a result of the strikes in England since December Credit: Jordan Pettitt/PA

5. Stop the boats

Mr Sunak's pledge to stop migrants from illegally crossing the Channel in small boats has arguably been his most controversial, and has faced the most setbacks.

Visiting Dover in June this year, he said his plan was "starting to work", after figures showed migrant crossings were down when compared to the previous year.

But a new record was then set for June, with the number of people detected making the perilous journey so far this year standing at 11,434.

Asylum seekers and campaigners also welcomed a Court of Appeal ruling last week that found the Illegal Migration Bill to be unlawful, yet again delaying migrant flights to Rwanda.

The government will now take the case to the Supreme Court in a bid to stop the boats, but there is no clear sign of progress just yet.

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