Rishi Sunak faces claims he is ‘scared’ to call an election during PMQs clash

The Prime Minister responded by criticising the values of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Richard Wheeler
Wednesday 20 March 2024 16:15 GMT
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was accused of being ‘scared’ to call an election (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was accused of being ‘scared’ to call an election (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak claimed Sir Keir Starmer’s values are “not those of the British people” after the Labour leader accused him of being “scared” to call an election.

Mr Sunak said his “working assumption” remains that a general election will take place in the second half of the year, following taunts by Sir Keir at the beginning of Prime Minister’s Questions.

After the Prime Minister said the wait means Sir Keir has “got time to come up with a plan for Britain”, the Labour leader replied: “We are ready. Just call it.”

Sir Keir added Mr Sunak is “so diminished” that his “entire focus is on stopping his MPs holding the sword of Damocles above his head, perhaps even literally” in the case of Commons Leader and rumoured Tory leadership replacement Penny Mordaunt, who carried the Sword of State during the King’s coronation ceremony.

Mr Sunak responded to his Rwanda deportation plan for asylum seekers being labelled a “gimmick” by claiming Labour “don’t actually care about fixing this issue”.

He went on to highlight Labour’s opposition to Government legislation aimed at tackling people smuggling gangs, adding 900 people have been arrested and 450 convicted.

Mr Sunak said of Sir Keir: “If it was up to him, those criminals would still be out on our streets and the truth is, if he wasn’t the Labour leader he’d still want to be their lawyer.”

The Labour leader countered: “I have prosecuted more people smugglers than he’s had helicopter rides – and that’s a lot.

“The Rwanda gimmick is going to cost the taxpayer £2 million for every one of his 300 people that they deport. I know the Prime Minister likes to spend a lot on jet-setting but that’s some plane ticket.

“It’s the cost of Tory chaos and it’s working people who are paying the price.”

Mr Sunak went on to attack Sir Keir for advising the now-banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in a dispute with the German government.The Prime Minister added: “When it comes to this question of how to deal with people who are here illegally, his values are simply not those of the British people.

“This is a person who campaigned to stop the deportation of foreign dangerous criminals. A dangerous criminal was jailed for dealing class A drugs after he fought to keep him here.

“A gangmaster was convicted of carrying a knife after he fought to keep him here.

“So whether it’s representing terrorists or campaigning for criminals, it’s clear whose side he’s on and it’s not the British people.”

Sir Keir replied: “It’s genuinely sad to see him reduced to this nonsense.”

The Labour leader said Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has been “reduced to begging” Mr Sunak to either send fewer offenders to prison or to release them even earlier.

Sir Keir said: “You can see why he doesn’t want an election and why his party has lost faith in him, why half of his Cabinet are lining up to replace him – no answers, no plan, no clue.

“And the Prime Minister has never had the courage to stand up to his party so let me help him out and say to them what he wishes he could.

“The mortgage mayhem, the waiting lists, the criminals walking free, they’re the cost of Tory chaos and if they can’t bring themselves to stop the endless games and gimmicks, stop putting themselves before country, they should pack up, go home and waste somebody else’s time.

“It wasn’t that difficult was it, Prime Minister?”

Mr Sunak said he was still waiting to hear how Labour would pay for increased borrowing, adding the Government’s plan is “working”.

He added: “That is the choice: higher taxes and back to square one with Labour or tax cuts and real change with the Conservatives.”

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