Politics@Lunch: Starmer tells Sunak to ‘pack up and go home’

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Prime minister’s questions kicked off today with a friendly planted question from Conservative MP Giles Watling.

Surprise, surprise, the prime minister agreed with the position taken by Watling that cutting inflation is indeed the best way to help his constituents. Reading from his PMQs binder, Sunak hailed today’s news that inflation fell from 4 per cent to 3.4 per cent in February (the steepest fall since the 1980s) as evidence his “plan is working”.

This line is one Rishi Sunak has been at pains to convey in recent days amid persistent speculation that some Conservative MPs intend to oust the beleaguered PM. The trouble for Sunak, of course, is that it isn’t just his hostile MPs working against him, but — as ever — Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Starmer began his questioning today by listing a series of perceived government failings, relating to the NHS, criminal justice, illegal immigration as well as £46 billion of “unfunded tax cuts”. “Why is the prime minister so scared to call an election?”, the Labour leader asked.

Sunak responded with a quip, saying an autumn election would actually allow Starmer to “come up with a plan for Britain”.

The Labour leader hit back simply: “We’re ready — just call it.”

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The focus of Starmer’s questions today was the government’s flagship deportation plan — ahead of a series of votes in the House of Lords tonight as peers continue in their bid to amend the legislation.

Starmer claimed that the Rwanda scheme “gimmick” will see the government deport less than 1 per cent of the 130,000 people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application.

The PM parried by pointing to his record — declaring he has brought the number of “small boat” crossings down by a third. “We’re committed to stopping the boats and the Labour Party will keep them coming”, he contended.

The Labour leader continued to press the PM over the Rwanda agreement — honing in on his main argument that the plan is just not a cost-effective way to “stop the boats”.

Still, Starmer reserved some time to wade into the rumbling Conservative psychodrama, joking at one point that leader of the House Penny Mordaunt is “holding the sword of Damocles” over the PM’s head. It was a reference both to Mordaunt’s sword-wielding antics at the Coronation and her status as the rebels’ favoured “unity candidate”.

The commons leader responded with a clearly discernible eye-roll.

At the end of his questioning, Starmer brought his argument full circle, telling the PM that he has “no answers, no plan and no clue”. “Pack up, go home and waste someone else’s time”, he closed. In other words: call an election.

Sunak responded by saying Starmer still hasn’t explained how he will fill Labour’s “£28 billion black hole”, a reference to the party’s green energy policy u-turn.

It was a session with few fireworks. And, lo, attention in Westminster now turns to the two rather more substantive events happening on the estate today: namely, the PM’s grilling at the hands of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers at 5 pm, and the House of Lords’ consideration of the Rwanda Bill. I look forward to bringing you the rundown on both tomorrow.

You can read my full weekly “PMQs verdict” piece on Politics.co.uk shortly — follow me on X/Twitter here so you don’t miss it. (I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this newsletter).

My featured piece today, which argues that the two likely election dates are 17 October or 12 December, will naturally make for grim reading for the election-keen Keir Starmer. Dive straight into the article here or read my initial thoughts below.

Have a great rest of your day.

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Lunchtime briefing

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Lunchtime soundbite

‘With his backbenchers looking for a unity candidate to replace him, which of the numerous born-again Thatcherites on the Labour frontbench does he believe best fits the bill?’

— SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn’s PMQs are the gift that keep on giving. This was his opener today.

Now try this

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Rachel Reeves buries New Labour economics
The New Statesman’s George Eaton argues the shadow chancellor outflanked the last Labour government from the left in her Mais lecture.

Sunak and Hunt should realise that voters want increased public spending, not tax cuts
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