TV debate

Sunak accuses Starmer of planning to hike taxes

Sir Keir Starmer appeared under pressure from Rishi Sunak’s accusations

A combative Rishi Sunak last night taunted his Labour rival with warnings of tax cuts and a failure to spell out what he would do stop to illegal immigration.

During a fractious television debate the Prime Minister warned voters not to “surrender” to Labour’s tax plans.

As the polls showed the Tories still trailing well behind Labour, Mr Sunak came out fighting and insisted he was the only one with a clear plan on the key issues.

“Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are not being straight with you, so do not surrender to their tax rises,” he told the audience. “Family finances are going to get ­hammered, taxes are going to get whacked up.”

Sir Keir rejected Mr Sunak’s claims, saying the Tories’ own plans were unfunded. He hit back by accusing the Prime Minister of failing to hear what the public was telling the government.

“If you listened to people in the audience and across the country more often you might not be so out of touch,” he said.

The Tories have pledged £12bn of savings from the welfare budget, but Sir Keir said: “The money’s been spent. The money isn’t there.”

On Brexit he said he won’t accept that the UK can’t get a better deal than the current one – while Mr Sunak claimed there would be free movement “by the back door” under Labour.

Mr Sunak focused heavily on what he claimed were Labour’s plans to raise tax as opposed to his own intention to cut tax.

“He’s simply not being straight with you about what is coming,” he said. “Mark my words, your taxes are going up if he is in charge.”

Playing for the grey vote, he added: “If you are a pensioner, you should know, there is a retirement tax coming for you. Capital R, capital T, if he is your prime minister.”

Sir Keir denied this, saying Labour’s policy was “exactly the same as the government” as it outlined in the budget.

Mr Sunak ridiculed Sir Keir’s claims that he would strike deals with other countries to “tackle the gangs” bringing illegal immigrants to the UK.

He said: “Who is he going to sit down with? Are you going to sit down with the Iranian ayatollahs? Are you going to try and do a deal with the Taliban? It’s completely nonsensical. He is taking people for fools.” He said that people smugglers would “need a bigger boat” because Sir Keir was scrapping his Rwanda policy.

Sir Keir hit back by saying the Rwanda policy was not a deterrent and is “obviously not working.”

He criticised Mr Sunak for urging people to unite behind his predecessor Liz Truss after he lost to her in the Tory leadership contest in 2022.

Debate host Mishal Husain drew applause from the audience when she said: “You know what it’s like to fall in behind the leader of your party”. This was a reference to Sir’s support for Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader.

Asnap poll from YouGov after the debate suggested there was no outright winner. Asked who performed best – “leaving aside your own party preferences” – the result came in as 50/50.

However, Conservative 2019 voters who watched the debate thought Sunak won by 82% to 18%.

Viewers were asked who came across as more:

  • Trustworthy: Sunak 39% / Starmer 50%
  • Likeable: Sunak 33% / Starmer 52%
  • In touch: Sunak 18% / Starmer 63%
  • Prime ministerial: Sunak 41% / Starmer 42%

The polling company used a sample of 1,716 viewers.

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