'Tough choices' and antisemitism – what Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss said about the civil service this week

Ex-chancellor says he could "stop or pause" government work, Truss launches war on "wokeism and antisemitism" and Case speaks to Truss's team
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss debating. Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

12 Aug 2022

Rishi Sunak has set out plans to drive down government spending to fund energy relief and Liz Truss has said she would “change woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism” if she becomes prime minister.

Meanwhile, both candidates have been invited for talks with cabinet secretary Simon Case.

With less than a month to go until the next Conservative leader and prime minister is appointed, here is what the candidates had to say this week.

Government work could 'stop or pause' to free up cash for energy saving

Writing in The Times yesterday, Sunak announced he would fund a £200 energy saving for every household in the UK and extra welfare support through government cuts.

“As I did at the start of the Ukraine crisis, I will drive a programme to identify savings across Whitehall,” he said.

“That may mean we have to stop or pause some things in government, because government is about tough choices. But we must find these savings because getting people through this winter has to be the first priority.”

He said he would also raise revenue to fund the energy relief through the Energy Profits Levy, known as a windfall tax, which was introduced in May when Sunak was chancellor, and “some limited and temporary, one -off borrowing as a last resort to get us through this winter”.

Energy bills in the UK could surge above £5,000 next year, according to consultancy Auxilione.

Truss targets 'woke civil service culture'

Truss, following in government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and Attorney General Suella Braverman’s path, unveiled her own war on “wokeism” this week in a press release today following an interview with the Jewish Chronicle synagogue in Manchester today.

She said she wants to “change woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism” and also accused Foreign Office staff off blocking her efforts tackle international antisemitism.

Retaining Rwanda scheme

Both candidates also commented on the controversial Rwanda scheme, a policy which PCS – the largest union representing civil servants – has taken the Home Office to court over.

Sunak said he would retain the policy, which aims to send some asylum seekers who enter the country through illegal routes to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement.

The ex-chancellor said it is “absolutely critical that we have control of our borders”, adding that a tough approach was needed to tackle "an illegal set of criminal gangs who were causing people to die in pursuit of coming here".

Truss also said she "completely agrees" with the Rwanda immigration plan, adding: “We need to have further reforms in the UK to make sure we can really stop illegal immigration".

The foreign secretary said she wanted reform on the way European Court of Human Rights rulings are applied in Britain but "would be prepared" to withdraw from it if necessary.

The first planned Rwanda asylum flight was cancelled after a last-minute ruling from the ECHR.

Cabinet secretary on the case

Meanwhile, Case has begun talks with Truss about how she would implement her policies and has contacted Sunak for similar discussions.

The cabinet secretary contacted both candidates within minutes of them being chosen by MPs to reach the final round of voting.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told the i: “As is standard practice, the prime minister has authorised the cabinet secretary to hold discussions with the final two candidates in the leadership contest to support them in preparations to form an administration. The same support is made available to both candidates.”

The Cabinet Office got in touch with both teams, inviting them for “access talks” like opposition parties are offered at general elections.

Officials have also provided the candidates with information on how best to prepare for running the government.

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