Rishi Sunak has claimed he has “no desire” to be Britain’s next prime minister as he issued a warning of the economic hardship to come in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to polls, the chancellor, who was propelled into the second most senior job in the government after the sudden resignation of his predecessor in February, is the most popular individual in the role since Gordon Brown was in charge at No 11.
Told by a Times Radio presenter he had looked tired on television and pressed on whether the coronavirus crisis had dampened his desire to be the next prime minister, he replied: “Oh gosh, I don’t have that desire.”
“But yeah I am tired I think that’s fair,” he added. “It’s not just me lots of people, not just in government, but up and down the country in all their different ways have been working around the clock – people on the frontline through to the prime minister himself.
“We’re all dealing with something we haven’t had to deal with before, it’s hit us at extraordinary speed and severity and everyone in their different way is trying to do the best they can. That often requires working very hard, and it’s stressful because it’s very uncertain.”
Whether the chancellor’s popularity takes a hit when the government’s coronavirus economic package is phased out in the autumn, including the furlough scheme, however, remains to be seen.
He said: “We are living in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty so I think we all need to have some humility about our ability to predict precisely, exactly, what’s going to happen to the economy. That said, I agree and have said previously, there is hardship to come.”
Pressed on future cuts to public finances, he said the Treasury has started the process of talking to departments about their budget plans for the coming years ahead of the autumn spending review.
“What we’ve said, in all cases, there won’t be a return to austerity,” he claimed.
“Public spending will continue to grow in real terms, so people should know that. We will continue to invest in our public services. Money going into public services will go up, it won’t go down.
"But our public finances have taken a significant hit alongside the economic shock we’re currently experiencing and that will mean we will need to make some difficult decisions going forward.”
Despite Labour’s demands to extend the furlough scheme for specific industries and areas affected by local coronavirus restrictions, Mr Sunak said the scheme cannot carry on “indefinitely”, adding: “In common with other countries around the world there versions of these are all coming to an end towards the end of the year.”
Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, has previously warned of a “python-like squeeze” on jobs in government support is withdrawn prematurely, telling The Independent the one-size-fits-all approach of phasing out subsidies for workers was a “historic mistake” that would result in job losses across the country.