Rishi Sunak may have some time to settle comfortably in 10 Downing Street. There was already an emergency in September and Liz Truss did not help the situation. Its first concern must be to restore some calm to the economy at a time when inflation reached 10.1% year-on-year in September and real wages are falling. As announced by Jeremy Hunt, one of his allies appointed to the post of economy secretary last week, “difficult decisions” must be taken quickly regarding “Taxes and expenses”. Budget announcements are scheduled for October 31, and Sunak will have to answer the question that Liz Truss has tried to avoid: should the social minimum be increased because of inflation, at the risk of increasing the national debt? It also needs to prove to markets that it can restore some political stability while legislating to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living and energy bills and mortgages that will soon flare up.
Another burning issue: Northern Ireland. Political life in the province is still blocked, with no executive or assembly. However, if the local deputies are not seated by midnight on Friday 28 October, elections for MPs will be held in mid-December. The most recent election, in May, made republican and reunification-friendly Sinn Féin the region’s leading party – a position that could be strengthened in the event of a new vote. Rishi Sunak, although pro-Brexit, could benefit from recent easing in negotiations with Europe and Ireland. During his campaign this summer, he advocated a peaceful and reasonable position, wanting to find a diplomatic solution with Brussels. However, he supports the Northern Ireland Bill, which would allow the UK government to override its commitments to the EU, as set out in the economic deal signed at the end of 2020.
Internationally, it will need to reiterate its support for Ukraine as Russia begins targeting civilian infrastructure and cities and the risk of nuclear escalation intensifies. Britain is one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, and Sunak promised in July to make his first trip as prime minister to Kiev. Politically, he will also have to reassure and reward both the right and the left in the party. Liz Truss had chosen to appoint only the faithful, and the composition of the new government will therefore be a delicate exercise in diplomacy. All this while the internal situation has not improved since the beginning of autumn: this week Liverpool dock workers, telecommunications workers and postal workers are on strike, and paramedics, nurses and teachers are consulting with them.