Doubt cast on Sunak’s TV debate tax attack

Labour have accused Rishi Sunak of lying after he claimed Sir Keir Starmer wants to put taxes up by £2,000 a year.

Mr Sunak claimed multiple times during the first TV election debate that Labour’s plans for the country were not costed and would require tax rises of £2,000 per family due to a £38.5bn black hole over four years, a number he said was worked out by impartial civil servants.

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Sir Keir called the claim “absolute garbage” during the ITV debate on Tuesday, but Labour shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth went further on Wednesday when he told Sky News’ Breakfast with Kay Burley: “This is a desperate lie.”

“He lied about Labour’s tax plans. What he said last night about Labour’s tax plans is categorically untrue,” he added.

“Labour will not put up income tax, not put up National Insurance will not put up VAT.

“And I think what we showed last night with Rishi Sunak… was how desperate he becomes – what desperate people do is they lie.”

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Sunak v Starmer debate highlights

The Labour Party said the costings relied on “assumptions from special advisers” appointed by the prime minister rather than an impartial Civil Service assessment.

Doubt was also cast on the Tory claims by a note from the Treasury’s chief civil servant which emerged on Wednesday. It said civil servants were not involved in the calculation of the total figure used and that he had reminded ministers not to present any costings as having been produced by civil servants.

A letter from a top Treasury official casting doubt on a Tory claim that civil servants have been used to put a price on Labour's spending plans
A letter from a top Treasury official casting doubt on a Tory claim that civil servants have been used to put a price on Labour’s spending plans

The Conservatives have continually claimed during the first two weeks of the election campaign that Labour have no plans for the UK’s future.

During the debate, Mr Sunak used the same line of attack, adding: “Keir Starmer is asking you to hand him a blank cheque when he hasn’t said what he’ll buy with it or how much it’s going to cost you.”

But Mr Ashworth said: “Every commitment we are making in this campaign is funded.

“We’re explaining where every penny piece comes from.”

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Key moments from the first TV debate

Mr Ashworth also accused Mr Sunak of being “no better than Boris Johnson, who lied over parties in Downing Street in lockdown”.

“He’s exposed himself as no better and no different. He is desperate and he’s lying to the British public,” Mr Ashworth added.

Read Sky News analysis on the TV debate:
Leaders couldn’t wait to tear into each other
PM may have shaded it but probably won’t win election

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A Conservative spokesman said: “We were fair to Labour in the production of the Labour Tax rise briefing note and used clear Labour policies, their own costings or official HMT [His Majesty’s Treasury] costings using the lowest assumptions.

“For example, using Labour’s figures for the spending items in the Green Prosperity Plan using £23.7bn over four years instead of £28bn a year.

“It is now for Labour to explain which of the policies which were Labour policy no longer are Labour policy.”

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A snap YouGov poll after the debate found Mr Sunak narrowly came out on top, with 51% of the audience believing he fared better than Sir Keir.

But a poll by Savanta published on Wednesday morning had Sir Keir coming out on top with 44% and Mr Sunak on 39%, while 17% did not know.

When asked who came across as the most honest, the 1,153 adults polled by Savanta found Sir Starmer was the most honest (54%), while 29% thought Mr Sunak was.

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