Good morning. Rishi Sunak is in Belfast today where he is meeting political leaders, including the new first minister, Michelle O’Neill, and deputy first minister, Emma Little-Pengelly, and the taoiseach (Irish PM), Leo Varadkar. This is a (rare) good news story because, with his two revisions to the Northern Ireland protocol (the Windsor framework announced last February, and last week’s Safeguarding the Unions tweaks and enhancements to the framework), and the DUP finally lifting its two-year boycott of Stormont, Northern Ireland can now move forward with devolved government in place and the Brexit disruption, if not over for good, at least receding.
But Sunak will know that prime ministers never get any credit with British voters for achievements in Belfast, and so there is an equally important story in an interview he gave to Piers Morgan on TalkTV, being broadcast tonight. Sunak admitted that he has failed on his NHS waiting lists target.
The fact that he has failed is not, of course, news. Last January as one of his five pledges, Sunak said: “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.” He did not say when, but waiting lists have been going up and so every assessment last month of how Sunak was doing on his pledges, like the Guardian’s, marked this down as failing.
But getting a frontline politician like Sunak to admit a failure on this scale is another matter, and Morgan did make news by forcing the PM into an awkward moment of candour. Last month, in interviews on the pledges, Sunak claimed he was “making progress”. But when Morgan asked him about waiting lists, Sunak said almost the opposite: “We haven’t made enough progress.”
The exchange went on:
Morgan: “You failed on that pledge?”
Sunak: “Yes, we have.”
Morgan: “Because you said, NHS waiting lists will fall. In fact, they are slightly coming down now. But the waiting list is still nearly half a million more than it was at the start of last year. Do you accept that?”
Sunak: “Yes. And we all know the reasons for that and what I would say to people is look we’ve invested record amounts in the NHS, more doctors, more nurses, more scanners. All these things mean that the NHS is doing more today than it ever has been. But industrial action has had an impact.”
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Rishi Sunak is due to meet Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly, Northern Ireland’s new first minister and deputy first minister, at Stormont. He is meeting Leo Varadkar, his Irish counterpart, too.
Morning: Sunak is expected to hold a press conference.
2.30pm: Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
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