PMQs verdict today: Rishi Sunak quizzed by Keir Starmer over Post Office in flat Prime Minister's Questions

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NationalWorld's Politics Editor Ralph Blackburn brings his PMQs verdict from the House of Commons today.

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak faced each other off over the Post Office in the first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) after recess.

Since they last went toe to toe, both leaders have had a rough time. Labour has had to suspend two Parliamentary candidates, including its pick for the Rochdale by-election later this month, over comments about Israel. While the Conservatives have lost two by-elections, with a 28.5% swing to Labour in the Brexiteer seat of Wellingborough.

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At the last PMQs, Sunak also made a crass joke about transgender people, while Esther Ghey, mother of murdered trans teen Brianna, was visiting the House of Commons. The Prime Minister has appeared inflexibly and unable to think on his feet, as Starmer has dominated recent PMQs.

That perhaps provoked some of the flat, quiet and stilted exchanges we saw in the House of Commons today, with neither leader embarking on personal attacks. Starmer started by asking whether Sunak would repeat the words of Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, that former Post Office boss Henry Staunton had lied when he said a civil servant had told him to slow down the compensation payments.

Sunak refused, instead saying that Staunton was sacked due to concerns being raised about his behaviour, adding: "Victims receiving justice and compensation remains our number one priority and we will shortly be bring forward legislation to address this matter."

Keir Starmer, left, quizzed Rishi Sunak on the Post Office scandal. Credit: Getty/Mark HallKeir Starmer, left, quizzed Rishi Sunak on the Post Office scandal. Credit: Getty/Mark Hall
Keir Starmer, left, quizzed Rishi Sunak on the Post Office scandal. Credit: Getty/Mark Hall

Starmer hit the nail on the head with the Post Office scandal, saying: "One of the features of this miscarriage is that when concerns have been raised they have been pushed to one side." The Labour leader then quizzed Sunak as to what government ministers knew about reports that a 2016 government investigation into the Horizon scandal was stopped.

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Sunak responded: "The previous government established a statutory inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams, which is uncovering exactly what went wrong." The Prime Minister failed to answer when asked if he had quizzed the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, who was the PM at the time.

The most notable part of a flat PMQs, was when Starmer quoted sub-postmaster Chris Head, who has spoken extensively about the long fight for justice and the difficult compensation process. Starmer quoted Head, who said: "There is a lack of transparency. We need to see the correspondence between the Post Office, Department [for Business and Trade] and UK government because all of the time everything gets shrouded in secrecy."

At this point, an unknown Tory backbencher shouted "playing politics" at Starmer, who responded by saying "these are his words, have some respect". This was the most passionate the Labour leader got throughout the whole of PMQs. See our verdict below.

PMQs verdict - draw

This was a fairly flat PMQs compared with some of the feisty sessions we have had recently, when Starmer and Sunak have really attacked each other. The Labour leader quietly asked all six of his questions on the Post Office scandal without any real gusto or passion. It felt, almost, as if the Gaza vote later was weighing on Starmer's mind.

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And in his responses, Sunak dutifully repeated that the government had set up a statutory inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal. Unlike last PMQs, Sunak did not repeat his list of Labour U-turns or attack Starmer for his support for Jeremy Corbyn. It was an odd, stilted PMQs, with even the backbenches quieter than usual.

Sunak failed to repeat Badenoch's claims that former Post Office boss Henry Staunton has lied and also refused to say whether he had spoken to Foreign Secretary David Cameron about claims his government stopped an inquiry into whether the Horizon IT system had remote access to sub-postmasters' accounts. However, these felt like niche wins which matter more in Westminster than with the general population.

Starmer got no big hits on Sunak that are likely to be repeated on the news bulletins, and the Prime Minister's responses were also quite flat. To use football parlance, we're giving today's PMQs a 0-0 draw.

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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