General Election 2024: Starmer quizzed on tax as Sunak 'incredibly sad' over D-Day furore in TV grilling

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak take part in the Sky News election event (.)
Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak take part in the Sky News election event (.)

Rishi Sunak said he is “incredibly sad” about the “hurt” caused by him leaving D-Day commemorations early, while Sir Keir Starmer was quizzed on his tax plans during live interviews on Wednesday evening.

The leaders sat down for 20-minute cross-examinations followed by a Q&A hosted by Sky News in Grimsby.

Sir Keir was up first in the “Battle for Number 10” election special. He was grilled on his party’s tax plans and why he had supported his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s ultra leftwing policies at the 2017 and 2019 votes.

He told the audience he “did not want to raise taxes on working people”. But he added that as a high earner himself, he would be “happy” to pay more tax.

On leaving the 80th anniversary of D-Day commemoration early last week, Mr Sunak said: “The last thing that I wanted to do was cause anyone, and particularly our veterans, any hurt or upset.”

It comes as the Prime Minister was forced to insist the general election isn't over, after Grant Shapps discussed the possibility of a Labour winning a "supermajority" at the July 4 vote.

The Defence Secretary was asked about Tory suggestions that the Conservatives could end up with as few as 57 MPs as they trail Labour by around 20 points in the polls.

Follow below for live updates...

Live coverage ends

22:06 , Josh Salisbury

Our live coverage is now ending, thank you for joining us.

As a recap, Rishi Sunak was forced to defend his immigration policies, while Sir Keir Starmer faced uncomfortable questions about Labour's tax plans.

The Prime Minster floundered when voters questioned him about record immigration levels and NHS waiting lists. He was also forced to apologise again for the "hurt and upset" he caused by leaving a D-Day anniversary event early last week.

Meanwhile Sir Keir chose his words carefully when quizzed on tax, insisting there would be “no need” to raise duty to pay for public services.

Read more here.

Lib Dems: Country is crying out for change

22:00 , Josh Salisbury

The Liberal Democrats deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, has said the winner of the debate was the audience.

“When they were listening to Rishi Sunak’s answers, you could see it in their faces and in their questions, their reaction was one of exasperation or just pure anger and I think that we can see people are just so exasperate and angry about the state of the country,” she told Sky News.

21:53 , Josh Salisbury

Pictures are now dropping in of both leaders during the TV debate. Below is both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak addressing the audience.

 (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
(Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
 (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
(Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Labour: Five more years of Tories means borrowing bonanza

21:45 , Josh Salisbury

Five more years of a Conservative Government would result in a "borrowing bonanza", Labour's Jonathan Ashworth has said.

Speaking to journalists after Sky News's The Battle For Number 10 programme featuring Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, the shadow paymaster general said: "Here tonight, we have seen Keir Starmer put country first and how he will always put country ahead of party, and how he is ready to serve this country with a plan to change this country for the better.

"And in contrast, you've seen with Rishi Sunak, he has got no serious plan whatsoever.

“In fact, he will make all the same mistakes that Liz Truss made with that desperate wishlist that he published yesterday - a desperate wishlist full of commitments he cannot fund from savings he cannot find because the money is not there.”

Minister: Sunak was 8/10 in debate performance

21:38 , Josh Salisbury

Farming minister Mark Spencer gave the Prime Minister eight out of 10 for his performance during the Sky News election interview on Wednesday night.

Asked what score he would give Rishi Sunak in Grimsby, he said: "I think he was a good eight."

He added: "What would have made him a 10? I'm trying to be as fair as possible, to be honest. I think he performed very well, to be honest.

"There's always room for improvement, isn't there really? I mean, how would you rate me? I think I'm doing a good six out of 10 at the moment but there's always room for improvement."

Asked to do the same for Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Spencer said: "I thought he was very good at not answering the question, to be honest.”

Snap poll: Starmer was debate winner

21:28 , Josh Salisbury

Sir Keir Starmer performed best overall in the leaders' event, a snap YouGov poll for Sky News suggests.

64% of those questioned said the Labour leader performed better, compared to 36% who thought Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did better.

The question was: leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight's televised leaders' event?

It is a marked contrast to the ITV debate, which showed a tie in performance, with Rishi Sunak being seen as having given the best performance then by 51% to Keir Starmer's 49%.

Streeting: Debate shows country 'crying out for change'

21:17 , Josh Salisbury

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said the debate shows “people are crying out for change.”

“They can see only Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are able to deliver that change, because they can judge the Conservative Party on their record.

“And when they see Labour’s manifesto tomorrow, they can see that every promise we make is a promise we can keep and the country can afford.”

Cleverly: Starmer 'either lying now or was lying then'

21:15 , Josh Salisbury

The live debate has now wrapped up, with politicians in the spin room giving their reaction to how their candidates fared.

First up is the Conservative Home Secretary James Cleverly who criticises Keir Starmer over his previous support for Jeremy Corbyn.

“I was genuinely shocked at Keir Starmer’s first non-answer. When he was pushed about whether Jeremy Corbyn should be prime minister, and he squirmed and squirmed,” he told Sky News.

“His answer was that he was basically being dishonest with the Briitsh public either then or now, we’re not sure which - but that it doesn’t matter because he didn’t really think Jeremy was going to win.”

'The only fear I have is for my children'

21:04 , Rachael Burford

Keir Starmer admits his wife Victoria was against him going into politics and would prefer he had got a “well paid lawyer job”.

He added that his only hesitation in becoming Prime Minister is the impact it will have on his children.

“The only real fear I have is for my family,” he says.

“I don’t fear the big decisions... I relish the chance to change our country”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria (PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria (PA Wire)

Met police racism

21:02 , Rachael Burford

The PM is asked about racism and misogyny in the police.

He says misogyny, racism and discrimination have “no place” in forces, but it is a small number of officers who are behaving that way.

There are particular “problems” in the Met, he says, added that the Tories would put another 8,000 officers on the street.

'I realise things are not easy,' says Sunak

21:02 , Rachael Burford

Rishi Sunak gets some heckling from the audience when he insists inflation is coming down and his economic plan is working.

In response he says: “I know things are not easy. Of course I know that they've been difficult for all sorts of reasons.

“We're continuing to bring inflation down and I'm pleased to have done that.”

The PM hears a couple of boos when he suggests striking junior doctors have exacerbated NHS waiting lists.

'I have an appalling diet,' says Sunak

21:01 , Rachael Burford

Asked whether he could tell the audience something that might make them like him a bit more, Rishi Sunak says he has “an appalling diet” and loves Haribo sweets.

“People seem to think I have a very healthy lifestyle and go to the gym,” he says.

“But I actually have an appalling diet because I have an enormous amount of sugar and I'm very unhealthy in that regard, which I was talking to someone today about.

“They were completely shocked. But also it's not really something that somebody might like me more or less for but that's something I was talking to someone today about, and they were they're genuinely surprised.”


Is small boats pledge in tatters?

20:41 , Rachael Burford

When he became Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to “stop the boats” - a promise which appears to be in tatters.

He also said he would bring down illegal and legal immigration.

Both have risen to record highs in the last year.

He says: “The numbers are too high. I'm not I'm not making any bones about that. The numbers are too high.

“But what I can tell you is what I've done in the time I've had this job is already starting to bring them down because we've taken action to change things.

“So last year, the numbers were down by 10% already and this year, the number of visas that we've issued is down by around a quarter and the forecasts show that we're on track to have net migration down in just over a year's time.”

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (PA Wire)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (PA Wire)

D-Day questions for Rishi Sunak

20:24 , Rachael Burford

Rishi Sunak addresses his decision to skip the D-Day commemorations in France last week to film an interview with ITV.

He says: “The last thing that I wanted to do was cause anyone ,and particularly our veterans, any hurt or upset.

“It was a mistake, and that's why I apologised unreservedly for that. And I'm deeply sad to of course, people have been upset by that. I was privileged to participate in all the commemoration events.”

Private school taxes

20:17 , Rachael Burford

Labour has pledged to strip private schools of their charity status, which could see them have to raise fees by 20%.

Starmer is quizzed by a father who says his daughter is in private school.

He tells the Labour leader he is saving the tax payer £7,500 a year by taking his daughter out of state education, but will be “priced out” under Starmer’s plans.

“I have nothing against private schools,” Starmer tells him.

“I absolutely recognise that many parents work hard and save hard to send their children to private schools because they have aspiration for their children.”

But he adds that taxing private schools will provide the money for 6,500 new state teachers.

“We need to recruit 6500 teachers for our state secondary schools to make sure every child wherever they come from, whatever their background, whichever school they go to, has the same opportunity,” he says.

Doctor strikes

20:07 , Rachael Burford

A junior doctor in the audience asks what Labour would do about strikes, which have put further strain on an already failing health service.

He says: “I don't think doctors want to be on strike.

“As I said earlier, my wife works in one of the big London hospitals so I know firsthand the pressure that NHS staff are under.

“It's been unrelenting during Covid, unrelenting now because of waiting list.

“So what we would do is instead of arguing about who gets in the room first to negotiate with the doctors, we would roll up our sleeves in a grown up way. Get in the room and settle this dispute.”

Starmer: 'I would be happy to pay more tax'

19:51 , Rachael Burford

Last year, Keir Starmer paid £44,000 in income tax, putting him in the top 2-3% of earners.

Asked if he would be “happy to pay more tax” he says: “Yes, of course”.

He adds: “I've always paid my tax in full.”

'I don't want to raise taxes on working people'

19:46 , Rachael Burford

Starmer chooses his words carefully when asked about tax rises.

He says he “does not want” to increase taxes for workers.

“I think people are taxed too much already,” he says.

He adds there will be “no tax surprises” when Labour launches its manifesto tomorrow.

Keir Starmer up first

19:38 , Rachael Burford

Sir Keir Starmer won the coin toss and is going first in the Sky News interview.

He is facing questions about his support of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and “very left wing” policies at the last two general elections.

“I honestly didn’t think we had a chance of winning that election”, he says of the 2019.

Keir Starmer arriving for the interview (via REUTERS)
Keir Starmer arriving for the interview (via REUTERS)

D-Day question

19:21 , Rachael Burford

Rishi Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early last week to film an interview with ITV is still haunting his campaign.

The PM has faced accusations he is out of touch with the public because of his personal wealth.

In the interview that he made his early exit from France to conduct he claimed he went without Sky TV as a child so his parents could pay for his private school fees.

Mr Sunak explained his parents wanted to put everything into his education, adding there were “lots of things” he wanted as a child that he could not have.

The Conservative leader also faced fresh pressure over the D-day exit after he was filmed saying the events he did not attend “ran over” time as he arrived for the in depth interview.

Read more here.

18:57 , Rachael Burford

The interviews come after senior Tories earlier today appeared to admit election defeat.

With three weeks to go until election day, cabinet minister Grant Shapps pleaded with the nation not to give Keir Starmer a “super majority”.

The Defence Secretary said: “If you want to make sure that in this next Government, whoever forms it that there is a proper system of accountability, then we would argue that you don’t want to have somebody receive a super-majority.

“In this case, the concern would be if Keir Starmer were to go into No10, it will either be Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer, and if that power was unchecked would be very bad news for people in this country.

“A blank cheque approach, allowing someone to do anything they wanted, particularly when their particular set of plans are so vague.”

Read all the background here.

 (Sky News)
(Sky News)

Why Grimsby?

18:45 , Rachael Burford

The Prime Minister and Labour leader will sit through 20-minute interviews followed by 25 minutes of audience questions tonight.

Sky News is hosting the event in Grimsby.

The broadcaster said the Lincolnshire town was chosen because of the “complex composition” of the new Grimsby and Cleethorpes constituency.

Boundary changes mean it’s shaping up to be a key battleground where Labour will need an 11.7 point swing to win this newly-merged seat back from the Conservatives.

The bellwether town is expected to reveal wider national voting trends.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)