Rishi Sunak ‘breached ministerial code’ over Labour tax hike claim in leaders’ debate, Keir Starmer tells LBC

5 June 2024, 16:00 | Updated: 5 June 2024, 16:40

Keir Starmer has said the Prime Minister 'breached ministerial code' when he accused Labour of plotting to hike taxes by £2,000.
Keir Starmer has said the Prime Minister 'breached ministerial code' when he accused Labour of plotting to hike taxes by £2,000. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott, Jo Draper and Emily Craigie

Keir Starmer has told LBC that Rishi Sunak breached ministerial code when he accused Labour of planning to hike taxes by £2,000 during the first televised debate between the two leaders.

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The Prime Minister and Labour leader went head-to-head in the first leaders debate on Tuesday evening ahead of the July 4 poll.

During the televised debate, Mr Sunak repeatedly accused Labour of planning to hike taxes for the average household by £2,000, claiming that analysis showed Labour has a £38.5bn blackhole in its spending plans.

Keir Starmer has now said that Rishi Sunak breached ministerial code when he accused Labour of planning to hike taxes £2,000.

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Asked if he agreed with analysis made by some that Mr Sunak had breached ministerial code over the claim, Sir Keir told LBC in Portsmouth: “Yes he breached the ministerial code because he lied, and he lied deliberately.

“Because we have made clear that our plans our fully costed, fully funded, they do not involve tax rises for working people. So that’s no income tax rise, no national insurance rise, no VAT rise.”

Sir Keir continued: “The Prime Minister with his back against the wall, desperately trying to defend his awful record in office, resorted to lies and he knew what he was doing, he knew very well what he was doing. He lied about our plans and that is a true test of character.”

Starmer spoke from Porsmouth.
Starmer spoke from Porsmouth. Picture: Alamy

It comes after Sir Keir dismissed the claim as “garbage” during the debate on Tuesday, with shadow paymaster-general Jonathan Ashworth also dismissing the allegation today as “categorically untrue”.

It emerged earlier on Wednesday that the Office for Statistics Regulation, the independent regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, is investigating the accuracy of the claim made by Mr Sunak.

Originally, it was reported the figure cited by Mr Sunak was based on analysis conducted by the Treasury, commissioned by the Conservatives, however, the Treasury has since rubbished Mr Sunak’s claim.

In a letter to the Labour Party, Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler said that the figure “includes costs beyond those provided by the civil service and published online by HM Treasury”.

Rachel Reeves also branded the PM's claims as a breach of the ministerial code.
Rachel Reeves also branded the PM's claims as a breach of the ministerial code. Picture: Alamy

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves also said that: “The Prime Minister lied 12 times in the debate last night, it is totally unacceptable to claim something which is not true, that is a breach of the ministerial code. The most senior civil servant at the Treasury has been very clear today that these numbers were not signed off by the Treasury.”

The General Secretary of the FDA, Dave Penman, told LBC’s James O’Brien echoed Ms Reeves' remarks earlier on Wednesday.

Asked if there was an argument that ministers had broken the code, Mr Penman said: “Absolutely. Every time a minister does something like this, creating a challenge around the impartiality of the civil service, then essentially they are breaking the ministerial code. That ministerial code is entirely in the remit of the Prime Minister, he's doing it as well, so nothing's going to happen with it.   

"We've become accustomed to this from ministers."

Officials are looking into claims about tax made by Rishi Sunak.
Officials are looking into claims about tax made by Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

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He continued: “I agree that any costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service.

“I have reminded ministers and advisers that this should be the case.”

He stressed that the Treasury was “not involved in the production of presentation of the Conservative Party’s document ‘Labour’s Tax Rises’ or the calculation of the total figure used”.

Earlier today, Martin Lewis also pushed Cabinet minister Claire Coutinho to apologise live on TV over the allegation thrown at Labour.

Mr Lewis quizzed Ms Coutinho on the letter from Mr Bowler as it emerged on Wednesday, as he pushed her to apologise, he said: “That is a slap down from the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.

“You have been on television elsewhere this morning defending this, and saying these are Civil Service numbers and that they were not by political advisers, is it time to apologise?”

Keir Starmer dismissed the claims as 'garbage'.
Keir Starmer dismissed the claims as 'garbage'. Picture: Alamy

But Ms Coutinho refused, as she replied: “No absolutely not.

“What the letter says is that you can look on gov.uk and costings are done by Government departments, the Treasury, and those are official costings.”

Mr Lewis again insisted that the figure should not have been used and said it had come from the Civil Service.

Ms Coutinho again replied: “People can look online. There is an official document on gov.uk which has been costed by Treasury officials which the letter confirms.

“And as I can say as someone who used to work in the Treasury, Treasury officials do not sign off dodgy numbers. They are very smart people, they are independent, impartial civil servants.”

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