Sunak and Starmer clash over tax in first debate

Sunak and Starmer clash over tax in first debate

57 minutes agoJennifer McKiernan,Political reporter, BBC News, @_JennyMcKiernanPA Media

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have faced off in the first TV debate of this election, with heated exchanges over tax, the NHS and immigration.

The Conservative and Labour leaders got scrappy at times, forcing the host of the ITV event to intervene and urge the pair to “lower your voices”.

Mr Sunak claimed Labour wants to increase tax by £2,000, which Sir Keir dismissed as “absolute garbage”.

And both leaders used the opportunity to set out their personal stories to voters, talking about how their childhood experiences had shaped their political views.

‘Lower your voices’: Sunak and Starmer discuss immigration

Mr Sunak went into the debate with current opinion polls forecasting a record Labour win, and with his pledges on the economy and his flagship Rwanda deportation policy under scrutiny.

The Tory leader was eager to land blows on his opponent as the first question from the audience focused on how each party would tackle the cost of living crisis.

Sitting in the audience, Paula from Huddersfield said she was struggling with energy and food bills and had used up all her savings – a situation the charity Citizens Advice says they are dealing with 6,000 queries on every day.

The Conservatives had set up the furlough scheme during the pandemic, Mr Sunak said, insisting his plan to grow the economy was starting to work.

In contrast, he claimed Labour would pay for its spending plans with “£2,000 in higher taxes for every working family in our country after all the hard work and sacrifice we’ve been through”.

This was a claim Mr Sunak made repeatedly through the debate, which Sir Keir dismissed as “absolute garbage”.

The Labour leader went on to suggest his opponent was out of touch, saying: “Paula, I just don’t know how you feel when you hear a prime minister say, having heard what you’re going through, that the plan is working.”

Both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir were asked to raise their hands if they would raise income tax, national insurance or, with the exception of Labour’s policy on private schools, VAT.

Neither raised their hand, prompting questions about how they would pay for their policies.

The debate continued to be heated as the pair explained their parties’ policies on immigration, which has been thrown into the spotlight after the return of Nigel Farage as the leader of Reform UK.

Mr Sunak challenged Sir Keir directly on his plans on immigration, often speaking over both his opponent and the chair, Julie Etchingham.

Sir Keir responded: “We need to smash the gangs that are running this vile trade, making a huge amount of money putting some of the most vulnerable people in boats across the Channel”, to applause from the audience.

At one point, Ms Etchingham was forced to intervene, saying: “Gentlemen, we will lower our voices.”

Asked about how to cut NHS waiting lists, the audience groaned loudly when Mr Sunak blamed health workers’ strikes for some of the issues – but he then won the first applause of the debate when he added taxes should not rise to fund the NHS.

The party leaders clashed over taxes and economy

There were more groans to Mr Sunak’s continued backing for his national service plans when he was asked what the Conservatives are offering Britain’s young people.

Mr Sunak said the plan – that would see every 18-year-old taking part in 25 days of community service and some being selected for a year of military service – could be “transformative”.

Sir Keir dismissed the idea as “desperate” and said the UK doesn’t need a a “teenage Dad’s Army” but Mr Sunak hit back with “all he can do is sneer at it because you don’t have any ideas”.

When asked if he would pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if his Rwanda deportation policy doesn’t work, Mr Sunak said he’d “choose our country’s security every single time”, a stance that was applauded.

But Sir Keir’s defence of the ECHR , saying he wanted the UK to be a “respected player on the world stage, not a pariah” was also applauded.

The most clarity of the night came when Ms Etchingham asked the pair a simple yes or no question on whether they would use private healthcare to bypass lengthy waiting lists for a loved one.

Mr Sunak responded “yes” whereas Sir Keir said “no”, adding he doesn’t use private health care.

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