“Current job hard enough:” Rishi Sunak on UK PM role speculation

PTI, Oct 5, 2020, 7:49 PM IST

London: UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Monday dismissed speculation around him taking over as Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister, as he stressed that his job as the finance minister of the country was hard enough.

With his handling of a COVID-19-hit economy scoring high, there has been growing media speculation in recent weeks around Sunak, dubbed “Dishy Rishi,” being ready to swap his current address as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s neighbour at No. 11 Downing Street for the top job next door at No. 10.

“No, definitely not. Seeing what the Prime Minister has to deal with, this is a job hard enough for me to do,” Sunak said, in response to a question about whether he would like to replace Johnson.

In an interview following his first speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer to the ongoing ruling Conservative Party conference, Sunak – who is married to Infosys Co-Founder Narayana Murthy’s daughter Akshata – also spoke about his close bond with his boss next door and how his children enjoyed playing with the UK PM’s pet dog Dilyn.

“He [Johnson] trusted me with this job which I am very grateful to him for, and he and I have a close personal friendship, and that spreads through the teams. There is an enormous amount of mutual trust between our teams. So as a building it operates really well, which I think is really important,” he said, in reference to No. 10 and 11 Downing Street as the headquarters of the UK political establishment.

Earlier in his speech aimed at Tory party delegates, Sunak, 40, promised to keep tight control of the UK’s finances despite the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

The finance minister, who is in charge of Britain’s financial response to the impact of the pandemic on jobs and businesses, admitted that “hard choices are everywhere” but pledged that he won’t stop trying to “find ways to support people and businesses.”

“We will protect public finances. Over the medium-term getting our borrowing and debt back under control. We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong, and through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books,” Sunak said in his speech to the party conference, being held virtually in keeping with the coronavirus guidance on mass gatherings.

“I will always be pragmatic. The Winter Economy Plan announced only two weeks ago is but the latest stage of our planned economic response. I will keep listening, keep striving to be creative in response to the challenges our economy faces, and where I can, I will act. I will not give up, no matter how difficult it is,” he said.

The senior Cabinet minister listed some of the measures he had already put in place to help protect jobs and livelihoods, including the furlough or forced leave scheme which will give way to a new Jobs Support Scheme.

“We will not let talent wither, or waste, we will help all who want it, find new opportunity and develop new skills. Through more apprenticeships, more training and a lifetime skills guarantee… we will help small businesses adapt,” he said.

While reiterating his previous message that no finance minister could save every job as there are no “easy cost-free” answers to such a health and economic crisis, the minister said he was committing himself to a single priority – “to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can.”

“Because even if this moment is more difficult than any you have ever faced, even if it feels like there is no hope, I am telling you that there is and that the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service,” he said.

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