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Rishi Sunak’s history of gaffes, blunders and offensive comments

During his stints in both No 10 and No 11 Downing Street, Mr Sunak has managed to rack up a significant back catalogue of blunders

Alexander Butler,Joe Middleton
Friday 09 February 2024 15:23 GMT
Rishi Sunak appeared to use a hammer the wrong way round

Rishi Sunak entered No10 pledging “integrity” and vowing to fix 30 years of “broken” politics, but in the months that have followed he has been engulfed by a plethora of gaffes, missteps and outright offensive behaviour.

The baffling encounters have left voters and a not inconsiderable number of Tory backbench MPs wondering if Britain’s multimillionaire prime minister is out of touch with regular people.

A Goldman Sachs alumnus and husband to the daughter of “India’s Steve Jobs”, Mr Sunak first entered politics as the MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire, following the 2015 general election.

He later acceded to the Treasury while Boris Johnson was prime minister, before later entering Downing Street following Liz Truss’s disastrous short premiership.

During his stints in both No 10 and No 11 Downing Street, Mr Sunak has managed to rack up a significant back catalogue of blunders.

His most recent error provoked a fierce reaction after he joked about the “definition of a woman” during PMQs while the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey visited parliament.

Below, The Independent has rounded up some of the most excruciating gaffes, mistakes and downright offensive behaviour from our current prime minister.

Trans jibe in front of teenage murder victim’s mother

This is by some stretch the most offensive thing the prime minister has said during his rocky tenure in No 10. The prime minister clashed with Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs and accused him of being incapable of “defining a woman”.

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, was in the Commons when the jibe was made as she was later meeting with the Labour leader.

Sunak condemned over trans jibe as Brianna Ghey’s mother sits in PMQs gallery

MPs were outraged and condemned the prime minister for the “cruel” joke, “shameful” behaviour and using minorities as a punchline.

Despite being roundly criticised across the political spectrum he has refused to apologise, with a Downing Street spokesperson saying his conduct was “legitimate”.

The Rwanda bet with Piers Morgan

Mr Sunak’s poor judgement was further exposed when he unwisely entered a £1,000 wager with Piers Morgan.

Defending his asylum policy, the prime minister bet a substantial sum of money that he would be able to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda before the next election.

Rishi Sunak and Piers Morgan bet £1,000 on Rwanda flights leaving before next election

However, the stunt was branded “crude and “depraved”. Green MP Caroline Lucas told The Independent Mr Sunak had plunged to a new low.

She said: “Words fail me that the prime minister and Piers Morgan can be so callous about the awful Rwanda policy that they place a bet on it.”

Ridiculed for appearing to use a hammer the wrong way round

Another apparent gaffe was a video appearing to show Mr Sunak using a hammer the wrong way round as he tried to help make a piece of jewellery during a meeting with small business owners in Farsley, West Yorkshire, on Thursday.

In the clip, Mr Sunak is sat next to the owner of a jewellery studio as he bashes a piece of metal with what looked like the wrong side of a hammer. The owner can be heard saying “Come on!”

Rishi Sunak appears to struggle using a hammer during TV report

It was quickly spotted by the Labour Party, who mockingly tweeted the clip with the caption “Man who hammers working people can’t work a hammer”.

But social media users were quick to point out an unedited version of the clip shows the craftswoman instructing him to use the hammer sideways.

Failing to wear a seatbelt

Mr Sunak was filmed failing to wear a seatbelt in a video clip uploaded to social media while he was enthusiastically explaining the government’s levelling up agenda during a visit to Lancashire.

The error was quickly spotted by people on social media and he was subsequently handed a fixed penalty notice by Lancashire Police for what Downing Street described as an “error of judgement”.

Rishi Sunak fined for not wearing seatbelt in moving car

Opposition parties branded the prime minister a “total liability” and accused him of showing “the same disregard for the rules” as his predecessor in No 10, Mr Johnson.

It is Mr Sunak‘s second fine, having paid a fixed penalty notice as chancellor during the Partygate scandal for attending a lockdown-busting gathering to mark Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday.

Borrowing a Kia from a Sainsbury’s worker for a photo-op

Mr Sunak was caught out reportedly borrowing a Kia Rio from a Sainsbury’s employee to fill up with petrol for a photo-op instead of using his government-issued Jaguar.

Treasury sources told the i paper in March last year that the then-chancellor used the red Kia to pose for the photo, but paid for the petrol using his own money.

It came as part of a campaign to promote his announcement that he would be cutting fuel duty by 5 pence per litre for 12 months.

Rishi Sunak’s publicity stunt in March this year backfired ( HM Treasury)

The source refused to say what car Mr Sunak had or whether he drove himself, citing security reasons. But when on government business, he is driven in a Jaguar.

At the time, Labour MP Jess Phillips mocked him for staging a “fake photo-op”. “I bet he doesn’t even own his own hoodie,” she quipped.

Man in charge of country’s money can’t use contactless payment

But the discovery of the borrowed Kia was not the only criticism whipped up by the photo-op.

That same day, the then-chancellor was caught on camera awkwardly fumbling as he attempted to use contactless payment to buy a can of coke in a shop.

The footage of Mr Sunak holding his credit card up to be scanned, rather than tapping it on the card reader, was viewed over 350,000 times online.

Rishi Sunak struggles to use contactless payment in awkward clip

He later admitted to a Tory leadership hustings in Darlington that someone had since taught him how to use a contactless card machine.

“The most embarrassing thing that’s happened to me is I struggled to pay for the petrol in a car that wasn’t my own,” he said.

Boasts about having ‘whole range of breads’ at home

The soaring cost of living has loomed large over much of Mr Sunak’s ministerial career, both in the latter days of his chancellorship and the entirety of his tenure in No 10.

But frequent questioning over the impact of increasing prices has tripped up the PM on a number of occasions, once notably boasting about his family’s bread selection amid Britain’s worst fall in living standards since the 1950s.

The then chancellor was asked by BBC Breakfast in March which food he noticed was rising in price in the supermarket.

When the presenter said for her it was crisps, he laughed, and replied: “It’s probably, I think bread, probably is the thing. The one we buy I’m sure is now about £1.20 and it was about £1, from memory.”

Asked what kind of bread, he replied: “It’s a Hovis kind of seeded thing. We have a whole range of different - we all have different breads in my house, a degree of healthiness between my wife, myself and my kids.”

Sunak scores own goal over football

Mr Sunak, a self-styled “massive football fan”, found the back of his own net by wrongly looking forward to his team playing Manchester United when they were in fact facing Leicester City.

Speaking at a hustings event in Manchester, the then-Tory leadership hopeful was asked how as a Southampton FC fan how he would get back to winning ways.

Mr Sunak describes himself as a lifelong Saints fan (Getty Images)

“I’m going to be unpopular for saying it here, starting by beating United this weekend,” he said.

He made the remark on 19 August, though Southampton, his city of birth, were not due to play Manchester United until 27 August.

McDonald’s order raises suspicion

Eyebrows were raised in August last year after it was pointed out that Mr Sunak’s preferred McDonald’s order was actually taken off the menu in March 2020.

Appearing on ITV’s This Morning programme, the former chancellor was asked about a photograph posted to Instagram of him paying at a McDonald’s self-service machine.

Asked by the presenters what he had ordered during his visit to the fast-food restaurant, he said: “I get a bacon roll with ketchup and the pancakes.

Rishi Sunak spoke about visiting McDonald’s with his daughters (PA Archive)

“But if I’m with my daughters then we get the wrap. If I’m with her (my eldest daughter) we get the wrap with the hash brown.”

But it was later pointed out by social media users that breakfast wraps were taken off the McDonald’s menu in March 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Asking homeless man if he ‘works in business’

More recently, Mr Sunak came under fire for what critics called an “excruciating” exchange with a homeless man.

In footage from his visit to a homeless shelter in London on Christmas Eve, the prime minister can be heard asking a man he is serving food to: “Do you work in business?”

The man, called Dean, replies: “No, I’m homeless. I’m actually a homeless person.”

Dean later said he was interested in business, prompting the PM to ask him what kind.

Footage from their meeting was subject to much online ridicule (Simon Dawson/ Downing Street)

When Dean replied finance, Mr Sunak said: “I used to work in finance, actually.”

Mr Sunak then asked: “Is that something you’d like to get into?”

“Yeah I wouldn’t mind. But, I don’t know, I’d like to get through Christmas first,” the homeless man said.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted the ITV clip and wrote: “Excruciating.”

‘Coke addict’ blunder prompts Alan Partridge comparison

Mr Sunak was mocked online after a video resurfaced of him telling school pupils he is a “total coke addict” before clarifying he meant Coca-Cola and not cocaine.

In the footage, the chancellor can be seen telling two schoolboys: “I’m a Coke addict. A total Coke addict.”

Rishi Sunak mocked after telling children he’s a ‘coke addict'

After a brief pause, he clarifies: “Coca-Cola addict. Just for the record. Just to be totally clear. I am a Coca-Cola addict. I have seven fillings to show for it.”

The clip was shared by the Twitter account Accidental Partridge, which highlights moments that bring to mind the awkward Norwich-based DJ.

No working class friends

During last year’s Tory leadership race, a clip resurfaced which captured Mr Sunak suggesting he doesn’t have working-class friends.

Describing his friendships in the BBC’s 2007 documentary series Middle Classes - Their Rise and Sprawl, Mr Sunak said: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working-class...well, not working class.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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