Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, delivers...

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, delivers a speech to launch the Conservatives' general election manifesto in Silverstone, England, on Tuesday June 11, 2024, in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. Credit: AP/Benjamin Cremel

LONDON — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday implored British voters, and his own party, to throw him a lifeline in the U.K.'s election, pledging to cut taxes and reduce immigration if his Conservative Party is reelected on July 4.

With the Conservatives trailing the left-of-center Labour Party in opinion polls, Sunak acknowledged that “people are frustrated with our party and frustrated with me.” But he argued that the Conservatives are “the only party with the big ideas to make this country a better place to live.”

Opponents said Sunak was making unrealistic and unaffordable promises in a desperate bid to stave off defeat.

Tuesday's launch of the Tories’ manifesto, its main package of pledges, came a day after Sunak was forced to deny rumors he could quit even before polling day as the Conservatives are alarmed over his lackluster campaign.

Sunak insisted he had not considered resigning and said he was “not going to stop fighting for people’s votes.”

On July 4, British voters will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, and the leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister.

Sunak held the manifesto launch at Silverstone motor racing circuit in central England, home of the British Grand Prix, and it could be one of his last big chances to get his spluttering campaign back on track.

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak helps...

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak helps himself to a cake as he chats with members of the media at a garden centre in Crawley, south of London, Monday June 10, 2024, ahead of a campaign event in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. Credit: AP/Henry Nicholls

His central pitch was the claim that a government led by Labour’s Keir Starmer would raise taxes, while a Conservative one would lower them.

In its manifesto the party pledged 17 billion pounds ($22 billion) in tax cuts by 2030, to be paid for largely by slashing welfare costs. The main tax cut is a 2 percentage point reduction in National Insurance, a tax employees pay to qualify for a state pension. The Conservative government has already cut it twice, from 12% to the current 8%.

Sunak said the Conservatives would pay for lower taxes by “controlling the unsustainable rise in working-age welfare that has taken off since the pandemic.”

The Labour Party argues that the tax burden has risen to its highest level in decades during 14 years of Tory rule. Labour campaign chairman Pat McFadden called the Conservative manifesto “the most expensive panic attack in history.”

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, conservative...

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, Jeremy Quin, right, and Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, second left, meet with Neighbourhood Watch representatives in Horsham, south of London, Monday June 10, 2024, ahead of a campaign event in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. Credit: AP/Henry Nicholls

Paul Johnson, director of independent think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said he had “a degree of skepticism” about the math behind the Conservative promises.

“Those are definite giveaways paid for by uncertain, unspecific and apparently victimless savings," he said.

Sunak’s surprise decision to call a summer election, several months earlier than most people expected, was intended partly to catch the opposition unprepared.

But it’s the Conservatives who have seemed off-balance from the moment Sunak stood outside 10 Downing St. in the rain on May 22 to announce the start of the campaign.

The Conservatives were already on the defensive after jettisoning two prime ministers without an election in quick succession in 2022: first Boris Johnson, felled by scandals, then Liz Truss, who rocked the economy with drastic tax-slashing plans and lasted just seven weeks in office.

The party’s prospects worsened last week when populist firebrand Nigel Farage announced that he would run for Parliament at the helm of the right-wing party Reform U.K., vowing to be a “bloody nuisance” to the established parties.

Farage has been traversing the country seeking to rally support with his anti-establishment and anti-immigration rhetoric. On Tuesday a 28-year-old man was arrested after Farage was pelted with objects from a construction site as he rode in an open-topped bus in Barnsley, northern England.

Last week Farage was doused with a milkshake after a campaign appearance.

Sunak stumbled again last week when he flew home early from commemorations in France of the 80th anniversary of D-Day so he could resume campaigning. The photos of centenarian World War II veterans and an array of world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden attending the solemn ceremony on Omaha Beach without him were a publicity nightmare.

Sunak quickly realized his error and apologized.

Paul Goodman, a former Conservative lawmaker who is now a member of the House of Lords, said the irony is that apart from the D-Day gaffe, “the Conservatives have run a perfectly decent, conventional campaign,” but have little to show for it.

“They’ve launched lots of policies, they’ve had some hits on Labour,” he said. “Rishi Sunak actually did pretty well in the debate (against Starmer) last week. … All of this appears to have made no difference at all.”

Sunak said the Conservatives would halve net immigration from its current level of about 700,000 people a year and would push on with a controversial plan to send some asylum-seekers who reach Britain by boat across the English Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

Sunak said that if he won the election there would be a “relentless continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda” with the first flights taking off in July.

Rwanda deportation flights have been repeatedly blocked by U.K. courts and could still be grounded by the European Court of Human Rights. Sunak said he would “choose our security” over court orders, but did not make an explicit pledge to leave the jurisdiction of the European court, as Conservative hard-liners have demanded.

Labour, eyeing a return to power, is running a cautious campaign centered on the single word “change.” Starmer’s core message — which dismays some in his left-of-center party — is that he has transformed Labour from its high-taxing, big-spending days into a party of the stable center.

While opinion polls giving Labour a double-digit lead may change, University of Strathclyde polling expert John Curtice said Sunak was facing a steep mountain to climb even before he called the election.

“Arguably the Tories’ days were numbered the moment that Liz Truss fouled up,” he said. “Because no government that has presided over a market crisis has survived at the ballot box.”

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