Rishi Sunak says Diane Abbott decision shows Angela Rayner is really 'in charge' of Labour

Rishi Sunak has said the decision to let Diane Abbott stand for Labour at the general election shows it is Sir Keir Starmer's deputy Angela Rayner who is really "in charge" of the party.

The prime minister said the row involving Ms Abbott - whom Sir Keir has said is now "free" to stand for Labour" - "just reconfirms what we know about Keir Starmer".

Speaking to reporters from Bury, Mr Sunak said the Labour leader "constantly changes his mind" and added: "It's clear that Angela Rayner is in charge of his party and not him."

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Ms Abbott, the first black female MP, was finally given the Labour whip back earlier this week, theoretically paving the way for her to be the party's choice in her London seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

She was suspended from Labour and forced to sit as an independent in the Commons last year after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice, but not racism - remarks for which she later apologised.

However, questions remained over her future after The Times reported that she had been barred from standing for Labour again in her seat, which she has held consistently since 1987.

Following persistent questioning over Ms Abbott's future, Sir Keir then said "no decision" had been taken on whether she would be barred - and that it was ultimately a matter for Labour's ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC).

However, Ms Rayner then gave an interview with Sky News in which she said she did not think there was "any reason" why Ms Abbott could not stand as a Labour MP - applying pressure to Sir Keir.

She told political editor Beth Rigby on the Sky News Daily Podcast: "She's gone through a process, that's right... she apologised, as far as I've seen, that has been dealt with.

"The whip has told her that she's back as a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

"I don't see any reason why she can't be a Labour MP."

Ms Rayner also criticised the original report in The Times, which said Ms Abbott would not be endorsed as Labour's candidate in Hackney North if she chose to contest the seat.

"What troubles me is these anonymous briefings," Ms Rayner said.

"Keir absolutely despises them... he doesn't like anything that looks trashy. He's not that type of person so I know that he will be as frustrated as I am with these briefings.

"It doesn't help anyone and it's very disrespectful to Diane."

The Labour leader then praised the veteran MP as a "trailblazer" when announcing she would stand again for the party, saying she had "carved a path for other people to come into politics and public life".

But the Conservatives have seized on suggestions of a rift between Sir Keir and his deputy.

Richard Holden, the Tory chairman, tweeted a picture of the pair taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement from 2020.

"What Angela Rayner was actually doing here is now clear; teaching Sir Keir to take the knee to her as Labour's first female leader," he claimed on X.

"Fair play to Angela Rayner getting Sir Keir to perform yet another U-turn."

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Mr Sunak also made the same argument, telling reporters: "If he's given in to Angela Rayner on this, imagine what he'll give in to when it comes to the union's demands for higher taxes or indeed weakening our defence and security."

Ms Abbott has said she would not be making a comment until she is officially endorsed by the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) next week.

But she told Sky News that "the narrative does look positive".