Rishi Sunak: ‘I would love to give nurses a massive pay rise’

Rishi Sunak spoke to Piers Morgan in an interview to mark his 100th day in Number 10 - Simon Walker /No 10 Downing Street
Rishi Sunak spoke to Piers Morgan in an interview to mark his 100th day in Number 10 - Simon Walker /No 10 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak has said he would "love" to give nurses a pay rise, in his strongest hint yet they could get a better settlement than other public sector workers to end the strikes.

The Prime Minister said in a TalkTV interview broadcast on Thursday evening that he viewed nurses as an "exception" from other government-paid workers.

"I would love to give the nurses a massive pay rise. Who wouldn’t?" said Mr Sunak in the interview. “Certainly that would make my life easier, wouldn't it?”

He said that “nurses should be an exception and that’s because they do an incredible job for all of us”, praising their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

But he went on to stress that the need to bring down inflation, which is eating into people's pay packets, limits his ability to sign off major pay increases.

"It's about choices,” he said. “So right now, money going into the NHS [is the] biggest it's ever been but we have to put that in lots of different places.

“We need to hire more doctors, more nurses. We need more scanning equipment so we can detect cancers."

The comments will raise expectations that healthcare workers could be offered a better pay rise than other striking workers to end their industrial action.

The remarks are noteworthy because the Government has largely tried to avoid speculating about the likelihood of raising public sector pay amid the stand-off with unions, many of whom are taking industrial action.

Mr Sunak also doubled down on the Government’s Rwanda deportation plans, declaring that he still hopes to send migrants who arrive to the UK illegally.

The Prime Minister stressed his desire to “break the cycle” of people-smuggling that has led to record numbers of small boats crossing the English Channel.

Asked if the Rwanda policy would ever take effect, Mr Sunak said: “Yes.”

The policy has been fiercely criticised by human rights organisations and opposition parties, but Mr Sunak promised to keep the drive in place when he ran for the Tory leadership last summer.

Mr Sunak said: “The system that we need, the system that I want to introduce, is one whereby if you come here illegally, you should be swiftly detained and then in a matter of days or weeks we will hear your claim, not months and years, and then we will safely remove you somewhere else. And if we do that, that’s how we’ll break the cycle.”

Discussing how to enforce the new plan, Mr Sunak said: “So look, in the first 100 days what have we done, what have I done?

“A, I’ve got a new deal with France, which is increasing the amount of patrols that are happening on French beaches, which is making a difference already.

“Secondly, I’ve got a brand new deal with Albania. Albania accounted for 30 per cent of all illegal migrants.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Sunak outlined his views on trans issues, stressing "biological sex really matters in women's spaces".

The Prime Minister also said he had believed his Cabinet career was over when he quit Boris Johnson's front bench last summer. Separately, Mr Sunak said he hoped he was "romantic".

The Prime Minister declined to be drawn on his views on who should be invited to King Charles III's Coronation.

But he did say: “One of the proudest parts of my job is to go around the world and champion and celebrate British institutions like the Royal family.

“There's an enormous amount of affection for the Royal family everywhere I go around the world and they do an incredible job. King Charles does an incredible job. We’re lucky to have him - the Coronation is going to be superb and we're going to have a great time."