Starmer accuses 'billionaire' Sunak of 'smearing working class woman' with Rayner tax jibe

Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen sets out the two tales involving Angela Rayner and Liz Truss which Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer collided over at Prime Minister's Questions.

Words by Elisa Menendez, Westminster Producer

Sir Keir Starmer has staunchly defended Angela Rayner and hit out at "billionaire prime minister" Rishi Sunak for his family's "schemes to avoid millions of pounds of tax".

The Labour leader accused Mr Sunak of "smearing a working class woman" as he appeared to hit out at double standards amid scrutiny over his deputy's tax affairs.

It comes after police re-opened an investigation into Ms Rayner's taxes, following Tory allegations she may have given false information around her main residence and the 2015 sale of her council home.

In further swipes during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), Sir Keir asked Mr Sunak three times to confirm if he planned to use cuts to the NHS, cuts to the state pension or hikes to income to fund his £46 billion plan to end national insurance. The PM sidestepped the questions.

In a fiery opening exchange, Sir Keir made a jibe about Mr Sunak's predecessor Liz Truss’s new book - for which she has given numerous interviews - suggesting working people are still paying the price for her "disastrous kamikaze budget that triggered chaos for millions".

“I am privileged to be the proud owner of a copy of the former prime minister’s new book," Sir Keir told the Commons. "It is a rare unsigned copy. It is the only unsigned copy.

“It is quite the read. She claims the Tory Party’s disastrous kamikaze budget that triggered chaos for millions was – her words – ‘the happiest moment of her premiership’.

“Has the prime minister met anyone with a mortgage who agrees?”

Mr Sunak replied: “All I would say is he ought to spend a bit less time reading that book and a bit more time reading the deputy leader’s (Angela Rayner) tax advice.”

In response, Sir Keir said: "We've got a billionaire prime minister... both of whose families have used schemes to avoid millions of pounds of tax smearing a working class woman."

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is investigating Tory allegations that Ms Rayner may have given false information about her main home residence over a decade ago.

Ms Rayner vowed to resign if she's found to have committed a crime but said she “followed the rules at all times” and received legal advice - something Sir Keir says he hasn't read and doesn't need to.

The Labour deputy was registered at an ex-council house she bought in Stockport but Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly suggested neighbours say she had lived with her husband at a separate property.

GMP initially said it would not be investigating the allegations, but following a complaint from the Conservative MP the force confirmed it had reassessed information and is investigating the allegations that she may have given false information about her main home residence.

After defending Ms Rayner, Sir Keir continued his criticism of Ms Truss, as he listed the people the former prime minister had blamed for the “economic misery” her policies caused.

Mr Sunak also took aim at Ms Truss as he told MPs he had the “conviction” to say her economic policies were “wrong” at the time, adding that Sir Keir failed to do similar during Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader.

"I was right then but I am also right now when I say that his [Sir Keir's] economic policies would be a disaster for Britain" the prime minister told Sir Keir.

He added: "When my predecessor was running for leader, to use his words, I did have the stomach to argue out loud about her economic policies and the conviction to say that they were wrong not once, but twice."

Sir Keir also blamed the Conservatives’ “obsession with wild, unfunded tax cuts” for crashing the economy and reiterated calls to the PM to transparently cost his £46 billion plan to end national insurance, accusing him of planning cuts to the NHS and state pensions to do so.

“He is not denying the £46 billion promise to scrap national insurance," Sir Keir told the Commons. "He is refusing to say where the money will come from and we’ve been trying for months to get to the bottom of this.

"So, now’s his chance. No more spin, no more waffle, no more diversion, I know that will be difficult.

“He can either – this is the choice – he can either cut state pension or the NHS that national insurance funds, that’s route one. Or he can put up income tax, which one is it?”

Sir Keir pressed Mr Sunak three times to explain how he will fund the plan.

Sidestepping the questions, Mr Sunak replied: “We’ve just cut taxes by £900 for a typical worker, we’ve delivered the biggest tax cut for businesses since the 1980s, but while we’re cutting taxes Labour is already putting them up.

“In Wales putting up taxes right now for small businesses, in Birmingham putting up council tax by 21%, in London his mayor has put up taxes by 70% and this is just a glimpse of what they’d do if they got in power, a few weeks ago he finally admitted it to The Sun, what did he say he would do? I quote, he said ‘we would put up taxes’.

“It’s always the same, higher taxes and working people paying the price.”

Sir Keir said it is “genuinely extraordinary” that Mr Sunak failed to rule out cuts to the NHS, the state pension or income tax rises.

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