Rishi Sunak has said that he would like to give nurses a “massive” pay rise and that they should be treated as “an exception”, but warned that the NHS cannot afford it.
Nurses will go on strike again on Monday and Tuesday after ministers and the Royal College of Nursing failed to reach a compromise on pay.
In an interview with Piers Morgan Uncensored on TalkTV the prime minister said he would like to give nurses a significant pay rise and agreed that they should be given priority.
“Nurses should be an exception and that’s because they do an incredible job for all of us and they demonstrated that during the pandemic,” he said. “I’m really grateful to them for that, and you’re right I grew up in an NHS family. So this does burn deeply inside me.”
He added: “I would love to give nurses a massive pay rise. Who wouldn’t? Certainly that would make my life easier wouldn’t it?”
However, he said the government needed to spend money elsewhere on the NHS.
“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.”
Sunak also said that women’s “biological sex” matters and should be respected in single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and in sport.
Asked about transgender women competing in female sports, he said: “I think that doesn’t strike most people as being fair. So that’s why when it comes to these questions biological sex matters. We can and will have tolerance for everybody who is thinking about transitioning and changing their gender.
“But you know, for me, whether it’s sex, whether it’s women’s spaces, whether it’s women’s spaces, whether it’s prisons, biological sex really matters.”
He highlighted the government’s decision to block Scottish legislation that would make it easier for women to change gender.
Speaking about how the issue affects women, he said: “I’m married to one. I have two daughters. And it’s really important that they grow up in a society where their needs are respected, whether it’s how they want to be treated when they’re in changing rooms or sports but also their safety.”
Sunak was also asked about the government’s migration policy. He insisted that the government will push ahead with plans to send Channel migrants to Rwanda and said it was “ridiculous” how many Albanians were arriving in small boats.
The prime minister said new laws would enable asylum claims from Channel migrants to be rejected “in a matter of days or weeks . . . not months and years”.
He said legislation, expected to be unveiled later this month, would change the law to bar anyone who arrives in the UK illegally from claiming asylum. Those who do arrive would be detained and “safely removed”, Sunak said.
Asked by the TalkTV host Piers Morgan whether the Rwanda policy was “ever going to happen”, the prime minister replied: “Yes.” He said a new deal with the Albanian government, which he announced in December, would enable illegal migrants from the country to be returned swiftly, although the agreement has yet to be implemented.
Albanian migrants accounted for about 30 per cent of the 45,756 migrants who crossed the Channel in small boats last year.
Responding to the statistic, Sunak said: “Of course that’s ridiculous. But I’ll work with the Albanians to put in place a new deal which means for people coming from Albania illegally, we’ll be able to remove them safely back to Albania and that is already happening. We’re putting illegal migrants from Albania back on flights and that will ratchet up over the year. And that’s tangible improvement in the situation. That deal is a new deal.”
On his personal life Sunak agreed that he was “batting above average” with his wife, Akshata Murthy. He said that he proposed to her at a place called Half Moon Bay in California, where they met while studying.
“We used to walk in this area and look up at this nice fancy hotel that we could never stay in, and I surprised her and we did go and stay there but before that we went for a walk along the cliffs and we were alone,” he said. “That’s where I proposed.” He said his wife gives him the “extra support to keep going when things are tough”.
Asked about his personal wealth — Sunak’s wife is the daughter of one of India’s wealthiest men — Sunak said: “Most people would consider I am very financially fortunate.” He added: “What matters about that is not how much is in my bank account, what matters are my values, and what actions I take for the country.”
He said he will publish all his tax returns for the duration of his time as an MP.