Who won PMQs? Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash over economy and leadership - our verdict
The economy dominated the clashes between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in today’s PMQs.
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Rishi Sunak today took on Sir Keir Starmer at the weekly PMQs session in the House of Commons. There was lots to discuss - from energy bills, to migration, to a delay to a vote on planning reforms - but, unsurprisingly, the economy dominated the exchange between the Prime Minister and Labour Party leader.
The atmosphere was contentious as usual, and both politicians delivered increasingly biting remarks. But what exactly did they say, what issues were discussed, and who came out on top? Here’s NationalWorld’s verdict on Prime Minister’s Questions.
What was said in PMQs?
Launching an early attack, Starmer began his interrogation by lamenting the current economic landscape and asking why the UK has the lowest growth of any OECD nation. He slammed the Conservative Party for “crushing the economy” and accused the Tories of “12 years of failure followed by 12 weeks of chaos.”
Sunak rejected Starmer’s statement and insisted instead that the UK “has experienced the highest growth in the G7 since 2010, the fastest growth in the G7 so far this year, [and has] unemployment rate at a multi-decade low.” He then took aim at Labour, saying that if they wanted to support growth, they should “get on the phone with their union paymasters and tell them to call off the strikes.”
The pair continued to disagree on the UK’s world rankings. Starmer blasted the PM as being in “total denial” and said an OECD report predicts the UK will be the first country in recession, while Sunak said the same report predicts that in the years following the coronavirus pandemic the UK will have the highest growth.
Unsurprisingly, no real conclusion was reached in the back-and-forth, and Starmer moved onto a more specific attack directed at the fate of the “super-wealthy non-doms”. He said the Tories have “thrown away £3.6 million” by not asking non-domiciled residents to “pay a penny more”, before asking how many more doctors Britain could afford with that sort of money: “Scrapping the non-dom status would allow us to train 15,000 doctors every year - that’s what Labour would do.” His comments comes as the NHS faces severe staff shortages.
Sunak retaliated that the Labour Party had “13 years to address [the issue of non-doms] and did nothing.” On the NHS, he pointed to the increased funding announced in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement.
Next, in a reference to comedian Joe Lycett threatening to shred £10,000 in protest over David Beckham’s role as an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup, Starmer claimed that Sunak "shreds £10,000 every other minute propping up" oil companies as he continues to demand a higher windfall tax on energy giants.
The Holborn and St Pancras MP also slammed Sunak as a “weak” leader, saying he can’t control his own MPs amidst increased in-party rebellions, he had “killed off” the dream of home ownership by delaying a Levelling Up vote on planning reforms, and decisively concluded that the Tories always “clobber working people”.
The Prime Minister used his last response to say that he knows more about being a leader than Starmer, claiming that over the summer, during the Tory leadership race, he told the country “what it needed to hear even when it was difficult” while Starmer “told his party what it wanted to hear” when he stood for leadership. He also denounced Labour as a party that does not represent working people, arguing again that they have not adequately stood up to unions whose strikes are affecting people’s everyday lives.
Who won PMQs?
After some disastrous performances in his previous PMQs, Sunak put on a better show today (23 November). The Prime Minister appeared more comfortable discussing the economy than he did discussing criticism of his Cabinet in prior weeks - namely, his reappointment of Home Secretary Suella Braverman just days after she resigned from the same role for breaking the ministerial code and his support for Deputy PM Dominic Raab given the bullying allegations against him.
The absence of these questions, likely combined with his background as Chancellor under Boris Johnson, meant today’s debate was more familiar territory and he didn’t struggle as much in his answers. Sunak did get reprimanded by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who cut the Prime Minister off for giving answers which were too long, but it was perhaps evidence of the Conservative Party leader feeling more comfortable at the despatch box.
Sunak landed blows by accusing Starmer of not reading the full OECD report he was quoting, and claiming the Labour MP’s leadership pitch in 2020 was less honest than the Prime Minister’s own rally for power over the summer. It was an interesting choice of attack, given that Sunak lost the leadership race to Liz Truss, but he delivered it with conviction.
This is not to say however that Starmer didn’t deal some decisive blows too. Images of the Tories “clobbering” working people are likely to stick, and the attacks over NHS worker shortages were ones Sunak struggled to respond to.
So today’s debate probably levels out at a tie. While the Labour leader ensured that the Prime Minister had to stay on the defensive, Sunak did not struggle as much as he has done previously. PMQs ultimately felt far more evenly matched than before, so it will be interesting to see how the next session pans out.
What else was discussed?
When questions turned to other MPs in the Commons, the most dominating discussion was that of Scottish independence after the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier today that Scotland could not hold another referendum. SNP politicians slammed the Prime Minister for not respecting democracy and implored him to “listen to the Scottish people.”
Ed Davey, the leader of the Lib Dems, raised the issue of mortgages, citing a constituent who he said rang him in tears because she was struggling to pay for her home. Sunak responded that he was “sorry to hear of [her] circumstances”, before mentioning the autumn statement which will “help families up and down the country” and saying his Chancellor will be meeting with mortgage lenders soon.
Further questions concerned Ukraine, particularly what the UK will do to help Ukrainian families who will be without energy this winter as Russia continues its. The Prime Minister assured the Commons that the UK is sending millions in aid and that he is in talks with President Zelensky about what more can be done.