Starmer faces questions on tax and trust as Sunak grilled on D-Day and immigration

Sunak and Starmer face rough ride from TV audience

12 minutes agoReuters

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have faced tough questions from an audience in Grimsby Town Hall, as part of a TV election programme on Sky News.

Keir Starmer defended backing Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 general election by saying he knew Labour was going to lose.

And when pressed on his plan to remove VAT tax breaks from private schools, the Labour leader said he wanted to tackle a lack of resources in state schools.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he appreciated people’s frustrations with the government as he acknowledge that levels of tax and immigration were “too high”.

He also apologised again for leaving the D-Day commemorations early and for Covid rule-breaking in government.

Responding to a disgruntled former Conservative activist who said she felt “ashamed” of the government, Mr Sunak said he was trying to rebuild trust through his actions and by “making progress on the things that matter to people” such as economic stability.

Asked for a fact about himself that might make people “like him more”, he said he had an “appalling diet” which included Haribo sweets and Twixes.

The prime minister faced more hostile heckling from the audience, particularly when talking about the NHS waiting lists.

Sir Keir also faced tricky moments, particularly when one audience member complained he did not answer questions and compared the Labour leader to a “political robot”.

After a brief pause and audience laughter, Sir Keir talked about his former roles working with the police in Northern Ireland and in the Crown Prosecution Service saying there’s been a “constant theme in my life of trying to serve the public”.

He was repeatedly asked why he backed Jeremy Corbyn in the general election 2019 but was now disparaging the former leader.

Sir Keir said he was “certain that we would lose the 2019 election” and that he campaigned for Labour because he wanted “good colleagues” to keep their seats in Parliament.

Asked why he had shifted positions on subjects since taking over from Mr Corbyn as leader, Sir Keir said: “When you lose that badly you don’t look to the voters and say ‘what on earth do you think you were doing’, you look at your party and say ‘we have to change’.”

One audience member told Sir Keir he feared being priced out of private schools due to Labour’s plans to remove VAT tax breaks.

The Labour leader said he had nothing against private schools and recognised that parents “work hard and save hard” to send their children there.

However, he added that “every parent has aspiration for their children whether they go to private school or not”.

He said money raised through his private school policy would help recruit 6,500 teachers for state secondary schools.

Asked what he feared the most about potentially becoming prime minister, the Labour leader spoke of his concern about how becoming prime minister could affect his teenage children.

He said it was “the only thing that keeps me up at night”.

Both leaders face twenty minutes of questions from Sky News presenter Beth Rigby, and then a further twenty minutes from the audience.

Asked about past promises from Conservative leaders that net migration would come down, Mr Sunak said he understood “people’s cynicism” but insisted he had taken action to reduce it.

He pointed to a clampdown on abuse of social care visas and an increase of the salaries needed in order to get work visas, and said the numbers were now “heading in the right direction”.

On the economy, the prime minister said he knew things were “not easy” but that he had been taking action to make things “that little bit easier” by trying to bring down inflation.

One audience member accused Mr Sunak of moving his party “away from young people” citing the prime minister’s proposal to introduce national service.

Mr Sunak said national service would be “transformation” for young people, adding that he was “incredibly excited” for his daughters to do the scheme.

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