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14 June 2023

PMQs today: Rishi Sunak comes out fighting

The PM managed to land blows on Labour and the SNP in spite of the Tories’ political and economic woes.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Keir Starmer opened today’s PMQs by asking Rishi Sunak why, during a cost-of-living crisis with mortgage rates spiking, the Conservatives were arguing over “which of them gets a peerage”.

The Labour leader was referring to the row between Downing Street and the outgoing Tory MP Nadine Dorries. Boris Johnson’s close ally has accused the Prime Minister of blocking her elevation to the House of Lords, but Sunak insisted that he “followed the process to the letter”. Starmer asked Sunak why he was prepared to reward those who defended Johnson over partygate, saying: “If he’s so tough, why didn’t he block it?”

The PM countered that No 10 had not previously stood in the way of peerages for Labour figures such as Shami Chakrabarti or Tom Watson, the latter of whom Sunak accused of having spread “vicious conspiracy theories” about the former Tory home secretary Leon Brittan concerning allegations of sexual abuse.

Starmer went on to pressure Sunak over Liz Truss’s honours list, which he said included the “masterminds of the kamikaze Budget” and those behind “disastrous ideas [that] crashed the economy”. Starmer asked: “Is his message to the public: if you don’t like it, tough?”

Sunak then moved his attention to Labour’s U-turn over its £28bn-a-year green pledge, claiming the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is at odds with the shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband. “It really looks like Labour’s offer never changes: it’s uncontrolled borrowing and more chaos with Ed Miliband,” he quipped, referencing David Cameron’s “coalition of chaos” line about the former Labour leader in the 2015 general election campaign.

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The PM senses Starmer is in a difficult spot over Labour’s energy policy; there was clearly some discomfort on the Labour front bench. He argued that the party’s plan to end new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea may leave Britain reliant on imports. “Despots like Putin are the only people who will welcome such a policy,” he said, calling it “British jobs for Russian workers”. In an apparent attempt to limit the political fall-out, Starmer remarked in an interview with the Times this week that North Sea oil and gas would be a “crucial part” of the energy mix for years to come.

After Starmer, the SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn tried to attack Sunak over Brexit and mortgage rates. He asked the PM if he “agreed with his own analysis” last year that Truss’s economic plans would mean the Tories had “no chance of winning” the next general election.

Sunak was again able to wrest an advantage by asking about a bouquet of flowers that some SNP MSPs in Holyrood had sent to Nicola Sturgeon following her arrest as part of an ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s finances. “Did he sign the card?” Sunak asked.

Though the economy is entering a difficult period, it was a positive PMQs for Sunak. He showed himself capable of thinking on his feet and landing counter-blows.

[See also: Inheritance tax is more popular than the right thinks]

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