PMQs verdict: Rishi Sunak goes on the attack as jeering Tory MPs drown out Keir Starmer

Politics Editor Ralph Blackburn gives his verdict on PMQs from the press gallery in the House of Commons.
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Rishi Sunak went on the attack at Prime Minister's Questions, backed up by his rowdy backbenchers.

The PM described Sir Keir Starmer as "spineless, hopeless and utterly shameless" for standing alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Sunak was well supported by Tory MPs who frequently drowned out Starmer's questions. It appeared childish and slightly unedifying, however it appeared to spur on Sunak.

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The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, appeared reluctant to intervene to stop heckling and noise like usual, after fighting to keep his job last week. Starmer could have done with more support from his own MPs, who let Sunak have the floor.

The Labour leader attacked the Prime Minister over his predecessor Liz Truss, asking why she remained a Conservative MP. Speaking about her trip to America, Starmer said: "She claimed that as Prime Minister she was sabotaged by the deep state. She also remained silent as Tommy Robinson, that right-wing thug, was described as a hero. Why is he allowing her to stand as a Tory MP at the next election?"

Sunak was forced to say that "I don’t believe a single member of this House supports Tommy Robinson", however he quickly shifted the focus to attack Starmer over Jeremy Corbyn saying: "If he wants to talk about former leaders and predecessors, the whole country knows his record because he sat there while antisemitism ran rife in his party and not once but twice backed a man who called Hamas friends."

The Labour leader then hit back with his best line: "I've changed my party for the better, he is being changed by his party." Starmer was referring to firebrand MP Lee Anderson who had the whip suspended for telling GB News that “Islamists” have “got control” of Sadiq Khan and London. He refused to apologise for his comments, saying that “would be a sign of weakness”, and instead doubled down on his attack on Labour’s London mayor. Khan has described the comments as racist and Islamophobic. 

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The Prime Minister has come under pressure to defend his party from accusations of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. Former Tory minister Baroness Warsi accused the government of “dragg(ing) its heels on any work to tackle this form of racism”.

Starmer also accused the Tories of "dancing to" Nigel Farage's tune. Sunak implied he would accept the former Ukip leader, telling the Commons: "In our party we have a proud tradition of diversity and accepting everyone from every background."

PMQs verdict - bullish Rishi Sunak wins

Rishi Sunak gave his most bullish and aggressive performance at PMQs months. Spurred on by his deafening backbenchers, he attacked Keir Starmer over Jeremy Corbyn, the Rochdale by-election and the chaos in Parliament last week.

It was noticeable that Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, did not interrupt Sunak or Starmer like usual, and instead let the baying Tory MPs drown out Starmer's responses. Sometimes it was impossible to hear what the Labour leader was saying, even in the House of Commons press gallery.

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The Labour leader could have done with more support from his own MPs, with Sunak getting a relatively free ride. Starmer's best line was in response to Sunak's Corbyn attack: "I've changed my party for the better, he is being changed by his party."

He also go laughs for his questions about Liz Truss' conspiracy laden visit to America, saying: "At what point did his party give up on governing and become the political wing of the Flat Earth Society?"

However often his questions were too long and meandering, and by bringing up Truss it gave Sunak and open goal to attack the Labour leader about Corbyn. The Prime Minister appeared fired up and roared on by his backbench MPs was the victor for the first time in weeks.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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