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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Rachael Burford

Keir Starmer challenged on tax while Rishi Sunak squirms in Sky News TV grilling on D-Day and immigration

Rishi Sunak was forced to defend his immigration policies, while Sir Keir Starmer faced uncomfortable questions about Labour's tax plans in live TV interviews on Wednesday evening.

The leaders were grilled on their proposals for the country in the “Battle for Number 10” Sky News election special in Grimsby.

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.

A snap YouGov poll following the TV special found almost two thirds - 64 per cent- of those questioned said the Labour leader came out on top, compared to 36 per cent who thought Mr Sunak did better.

Sir Keir promised his manifesto, due to be revealed on Thursday, will contain no surprises on tax, as he sought to calm nerves about the possibility of shock costs to voters in his full general election offer.

He said he “does not want” to increase taxes on working people.

“I think people are taxed too much already,” he told the audience.

But he added that as a person in the top 2-3 per cent of earners he would be “happy to pay more tax” himself.

The Labour leader was pressed about whether his party would consider hiking fuel duty or capital gains tax to raise more cash for the public purse, after he already ruled out raising income tax, national insurance, or VAT in the next parliament.

"We're going to unveil our manifesto tomorrow - no tax surprises, there's going to be no need to raise tax on the plans we're setting out," Sir Keir said.

Asked if he would rule out fuel duty rises, he added that Labour had supported a freeze "every single time it has come up".

The Prime Minister's decision to leave D-Day commemorations in France early to film an interview with ITV continued to haunt his general election campaign.

Mr Sunak reiterated his apology for the "mistake" before saying: "I was incredibly sad to have caused people hurt and upset, that was the last thing that I wanted to do. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me."

The PM also faced uncomfortable questions about his record on immigration and the pledge he made when he became the leader of the Tory party to "stop the boats".

In the last seven days alone more than 500 people have made the perilous journey across the Channel.

"We have already started detaining people, airfields on standby, planes are booked, the date for the first flight is out on July 24," Mr Sunak told the TV audience.

"We haven't given more details beyond that to not compromise the operational security, but there will be a regular rhythm of flights, not just one."

Mr Sunak was challenged about net migration, which over the last three years is more than double compared to the three-year period before the 2016 EU referendum.

He said: "It's too high. I have been very clear that it's too high and I'm sure people feel frustrated and angry about it."

Asked why anyone should believe what he says on immigration, Mt Sunak replied: "I can completely understand people's cynicism about this."

He added that since he became PM 18 months ago "numbers are down 10 per cent and visas issued this year are down by a quarter" and Labour "does not have a plan" to deal with immigration.

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