Rishi Sunak on Tuesday vowed to fix the “mistakes” made by Liz Truss as he replaced more than a third of her Cabinet and brought back experienced ministers, including Michael Gove, to head up key departments.
The new Prime Minister used his speech on the Downing Street steps to warn that “difficult decisions” were needed as he partly blamed the economic mess on his predecessor, and committed to delivering the 2019 manifesto.
A reshuffle saw many of Ms Truss’s senior ministers removed. Of the 17 Tory MPs brought into the Cabinet, eight had served in Boris Johnson’s top team.
Three were given their old jobs – Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, Mr Gove, the Communities Secretary, and Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary.
A fourth, Thérèse Coffey, was stripped of the promotion handed by Ms Truss and made Environment Secretary, a role she served under two previous prime ministers.
The changes at the top amounted to an attempt to reset the Government after Ms Truss’s calamitous 49-day premiership.
On Tuesday a No 10 source stressed that the new Cabinet reflected “continuity” and “a unified party”.
In his speech, Mr Sunak initially praised the drive of his predecessor, but went on to say in categorical terms that she had made missteps which he would correct.
Mr Sunak said: “I want to pay tribute to my predecessor Liz Truss. She was not wrong to want to improve growth in this country. It is a noble aim. And I admired her restlessness to create change.
“But some mistakes were made. Not borne of ill will or bad intentions. Quite the opposite, in fact. But mistakes nonetheless. And I have been elected as leader of my party, and your Prime Minister, in part, to fix them. And that work begins immediately.”
The comments reflected the aftermath of the mini-Budget, which fuelled interest rate rises, triggered market instability and was followed by a huge opinion poll drop for the Tories.
Labour will seek to exploit admission
However, Mr Sunak’s decision to own up to errors made by his own party in government is something Labour will seek to exploit in the coming months.
The sombre address was given shortly after Ms Truss brought the curtain down on her premiership with her own Downing Street speech that made no explicit admission to errors in office.
“I’m more convinced than ever we need to be bold and confront the challenges we face,” Ms Truss said, repeating her belief in lower taxes and the importance of defence spending.
She also quoted the Roman philosopher Seneca: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it’s because we do not dare that they are difficult.”
Mr Sunak’s reshuffle was framed around the principles of unity and experience in his new Downing Street team, which did retain some senior figures from Ms Truss’s original cabinet.
James Cleverly was kept as Foreign Secretary while Suella Braverman, who had been Ms Truss’s home secretary before quitting last week, was reappointed to the role.
Labour fiercely criticised the appointment given that Mrs Braverman resigned just six days ago after being found to have broken the ministerial code for leaking documents to a Tory MP.
A No 10 source said: “This Cabinet brings the talents of the party together. It reflects a unified party and a Cabinet with significant experience, ensuring that at this uncertain time there is continuity at the heart of government.”
Mr Sunak’s appointments hinted at the policy direction he may take in office.
Jeremy Hunt, who was brought back from years on the backbenches to be Chancellor by Ms Truss as she attempted to cling on to office, will remain in the Treasury, as expected.
It is unclear if the so-called “medium-term fiscal plan” which was due to be revealed on Monday will take place on that date. Treasury insiders said a decision was pending.
But the appointment does suggest that Mr Hunt’s broad approach to economic matters, such as the need for a spending squeeze and short-term tax rises, chimes with Mr Sunak’s views.
Mr Raab’s return to the Justice Department suggests the British Bills of Rights, an attempt to curb the influence of European judges, will be brought back after Ms Truss ditched it.
The appointment also means Mr Raab, now once again the second most senior minister in the Government, will stand in for Mr Sunak when needed at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mel Stride, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, has in recent weeks called for benefits to rise in line with inflation. He now heads up the department in charge of that policy brief.
‘Economic stability and confidence’ at heart of agenda
Other notable appointments included Ben Wallace, who stays as Defence Secretary despite Mr Sunak not endorsing Ms Truss’s promise to spend three per cent of GDP on defence by 2030.
On the economy, Mr Sunak told the British public that he would take a similar approach to that adopted when he headed up the Treasury during the Covid pandemic.
Mr Sunak said: “I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come.
“But you saw me during Covid, doing everything I could, to protect people and businesses, with schemes like furlough.
“There are always limits, more so now than ever, but I promise you this. I will bring that same compassion to the challenges we face today.
“The government I lead will not leave the next generation – your children and grandchildren – with a debt to settle that we were too weak to pay ourselves.”
No repeat of borrowing to fund tax cuts
That last line was a repeat of his argument during the Tory summer leadership race and makes clear he will not copy Ms Truss’s strategy of borrowing to fund tax cuts.
Mr Sunak used his speech to deliver warm words about Mr Johnson, whose departure he helped trigger by resigning in July and who he beat to the Tory leadership this week.
In an attempt to ease tensions, Mr Sunak said: “I will always be grateful to Boris Johnson for his incredible achievements as Prime Minister, and I treasure his warmth and generosity of spirit.
“And I know he would agree that the mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual. It is a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us.”
That comment was a rejection of Labour’s calls for an early election, arguing that the 2019 vote gives him the right to govern despite not being elected by Tory members, as Ms Truss had been.
It was also a rebuttal of the argument that Mr Johnson and his own supporters were making just days ago as they insisted Mr Sunak’s victory would inevitably trigger an election.
The Prime Minister went on: “The heart of that mandate is our manifesto. I will deliver on its promise. A stronger NHS. Better schools. Safer streets. Control of our borders.
“Protecting our environment. Supporting our armed forces. Levelling up and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit, where businesses invest, innovate, and create jobs.”
It means that Mr Sunak has vowed to govern on promises delivered by Mr Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, which may complicate attempts to drive through his own, different policy priorities.
Near the end of the speech, Mr Sunak, still only seven years into his career as an MP, spoke about the challenges ahead as he moved into Downing Street.
Mr Sunak said: “I fully appreciate how hard things are. And I understand too that I have work to do to restore trust after all that has happened.
“All I can say is that I am not daunted. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands.
“But when the opportunity to serve comes along, you cannot question the moment, only your willingness. So I stand here before you ready to lead our country into the future.”