UK

‘We’re not going away’: PM delivers ‘straightforward’ message for Putin at G7 summit

Rishi Sunak has given a “straightforward” message for Vladimir Putin at the G7 summit: “We’re not going away.”

Speaking to Sky News in Hiroshima, the prime minister had ready answers for his policy and position on Ukraine.

Hours earlier, he had announced a ban on imports of Russian diamonds – and told me that he believes other G7 countries will follow suit this weekend.

Russia needs to know that we and other countries are steadfast in our resolve to support Ukraine, not just in the here and now with the resources it needs to protect itself, but for the long term as well,” the PM said.

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Vladimir Putin, together with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Mr Sunak repeatedly refused to commit to reducing overall net migration below the 504,000 figure for the year to June 2022, saying: “What I can commit is that we want to bring those levels down.”

In 2019 the Conservative Party promised in its manifesto to bring overall net migration figures down from the then 226,000 in 2019.

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But during this parliament, net migration has continued to rise to record levels – and is set to go even higher still.

Figures to be released next week are set to show numbers growing from 650,000 to just shy of one million, which will pile pressure on the prime minister.

Of course, Mr Sunak is loathed to commit to a figure because he doesn’t know if he can keep the pledge – his motto after all is to deliver on promises, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

But it is also an admission that, having failed to hit the last manifesto target of driving net migration down to below 226,000, he can’t even commit to driving it back past half a million, which will give Labour lots of political ammunition to fire at the prime minister going into a general election campaign.

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Rishi Sunak’s G7 plan

Mr Sunak kept rounding back to his plans to tackle illegal migration and stop small boat crossings in our interview – probably because he knows this is where key target voters will want to see progress from the PM – but he must know too that high levels of migration and breaking the 2019 manifesto pledge puts him in a tight spot with the public.

The PM said this week of his election prospects that he’s confident he can win the next general election, but you can’t help but wonder if he’s still reeling from the huge local election losses earlier this month that saw the Conservatives lose over 1,000 councillors.

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This after all is a man of great success – head boy at his public boarding school, a self-made millionaire and successful businessman who went into politics and became PM.

But when I asked him how he feels when he loses, he looked a bit stumped and asked me what I meant.

When I asked him again how he felt when he didn’t win, he trotted out the same line he gave on the morning of the local elections – “it’s always disappointing to lose hard-working councillors”.

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‘How do you feel when you lose?’

In fact, the prime minister was quite robotic in our interview at times.

Eight times in our nine-minute exchange, Mr Sunak referred to his “five priorities”.

He went on to list those priorities on four separate occasions in our conversation when I pressed him on local elections and the cost of living crisis.

On the world stage, this is a leader who is delivering, be it the new bilateral Hiroshima agreement with Japan to deepen economic, security and technological ties between London and Tokyo, or the new set of sanctions against Russia.

And Mr Sunak will be given a further boost on this front over the weekend as President Zelenskyy of Ukraine arrives in Japan to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his allies against Russian aggression.

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Japan to invest almost £18bn in UK

But back home, it seems that his message to voters on his five-point plan to “halve inflation, growth the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats” seems to be falling on deaf ears, however many times he chooses to say it.

No 10 is betting that if he manages to turn those promises into real action for voters, they may give the Conservatives another look.

But after seven months in power, the polls aren’t moving in his favour – and what’s clear is that there isn’t a Plan B.

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