Rishi Sunak claims Keir Starmer 'not fit to lead' during furious clash on private schools

Rishi Sunak claimed Sir Keir Starmer is "not fit to lead" as they clashed over Labour's plan to scrap charitable status for private schools.

The Prime Minister, who attended Winchester College, told Sir Keir during PMQs: "Whenever he attacks me about where I went to school he is attacking the hardworking aspiration of millions of people in this country.

"He is attacking people like my parents. This is a country that believes in opportunity not resentment and he doesn't understand that and that's why he is not fit to lead."

Sir Keir hit back and said: "If he thinks the route to better education in this country is tax breaks for private schools in the hope they might hand some of that down to state schools, that is laughable. Trickle down education is nonsense."

Sir Keir has recommitted to Jeremy Corbyn’s policy of scrapping the charitable status for private schools. The policy would see private schools lose their VAT exemption, meaning parents could be asked to absorb a 20 per cent tax on fees.

Labour claims its policy would bring in £1.7 billion a year which could be reinvested in state schools but critics have said the policy would backfire and end up reducing funding for state school pupils because some families would be priced out of the private sector, increasing the burden on the state sector.

Follow the latest updates below.

04:00 PM

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today's politics live blog.

I will be back early tomorrow morning.

03:20 PM

'Something has to change or the service as we know it will collapse'

The GMB union said ambulance workers are "on their knees" after strike action was announced (see the post below at 15.02).

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: "Ambulance workers – like other NHS workers – are on their knees. Demoralised and downtrodden, they’ve faced 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, fought on the frontline of a global pandemic and now face the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

"No one in the NHS takes strike action lightly – today shows just how desperate they are. This is as much about unsafe staffing levels and patient safety as it is about pay. A third of GMB ambulance workers think delays they’ve been involved with have led to the death of a patient.

"Something has to change or the service as we know it will collapse. GMB calls on the Government to avoid a winter of NHS strikes by negotiating a pay award that these workers deserve."

03:02 PM

Ambulance workers vote for strike action

More than 10,000 ambulance workers have voted to strike across nine trusts in England and Wales, the GMB union has announced.

Members due to walkout include paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff.

The union will meet with representatives in the coming days to discuss potential strike dates before Christmas.

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03:00 PM

Matt Hancock was paid £45,000 to appear on Celebrity SAS

Matt Hancock was paid £45,000 to appear on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.

The former health secretary declared the payment in an update to the MPs’ Register of Interests published today.

The entry also revealed he spent 80 hours filming the programme while Parliament was in recess between September 24 and October 8, shortly before heading to Australia to appear in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

Mr Hancock is yet to declare the amount he was paid to appear on I’m A Celebrity, which finished on Sunday, but reports have suggested his fee for the show was significantly higher.

02:49 PM

Minister defends UK-Australia trade deal

Kemi Badenoch, the Trade Secretary, has rejected a former minister’s criticism of the UK's trade deal with Australia - but acknowledged that deadlines during negotiations can be "unhelpful".

Earlier this month former environment secretary George Eustice said the deals negotiated with Australia and New Zealand included provisions that were not in the economic interests of the UK, with the Government giving away "far too much".

But Ms Badenoch said: "I disagreed with what he said about it not being a good deal for the country. That is absolutely not true. I do think deadlines can be incredibly unhelpful in negotiations. We saw this with Brexit.

"But if the other side knows you have a deadline, they are able then to hold out or be more difficult which creates an incentive to create more concessions."

02:29 PM

Bank’s chief economist says Brexit played a part in inflation rise

The Bank of England’s chief economist has said that Brexit has had an impact on the labour market and may have played a part in driving up inflation in the UK.

Huw Pill said Brexit has reduced trade between the UK and Europe which has had a knock-on effect on labour, productivity and prices.

He said, during an economic summit run by the ICAEW: "Brexit has probably reduced some of the competitive pressure in the goods market, because it just is harder to import things into the UK from Europe.

"Some of that loss of competitive pressure probably means there is greater pricing power at some points in value chains in the UK, and that has probably proved to be somewhat inflationary."

02:08 PM

Government requests use of 400 police cells to house prisoners

The Government has asked to use 400 police cells to hold inmates after a sudden increase in the prison population over the last few months, justice minister Damian Hinds has told MPs.

Prisoners could now be held in the police cells in a bid to reduce "acute and sudden" overcrowding in the nation's jails.

In a statement in the Commons this afternoon, he said: "In recent months we have experienced an acute and sudden increase in the prison population, in part due to the aftermath of the Criminal Bar Association strike action over the summer which led to a significantly higher number of offenders on remand.

"With court hearings resuming, we are seeing a surge in offenders coming through the criminal justice system, placing capacity pressure on adult male prisons in particular."

He added: "I’m announcing today that we’ve written to the National Police Chiefs Council to request the temporary use of up to 400 police cells through an established protocol known as Operation Safeguard."

01:17 PM

Rishi Sunak 'does not believe private schools better than state schools'

Rishi Sunak does not believe that private schools are better than state schools, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary told reporters: "The PM’s view is that private schools... play an important role in providing opportunities for children around the country and we’re providing even more funding for state schools."

Asked if the Prime Minister thought private schools were better than state schools, she said: "No, I don’t think that’s his position at all. Actually, he talked about the improvement in our state education system that we’ve seen over the last 12-15 years."

01:09 PM

Government will appoint new ethics adviser 'very soon'

Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart said the Government will appoint a new independent adviser on ministerial interests "very soon".

Responding to a Labour urgent question on the subject, Mr Burghart said: "She [Angela Rayner] refers to rumours in the press, but let us look at the facts – the Prime Minister has been in office for 31 days. On his first day he said he would make an appointment, he has made repeated assurances in this place and in other places as have members of the Cabinet."

He added: "We are going to have an independent adviser, they are going to have the powers they need, and they are going to appointed very soon."

01:05 PM

Labour presses PM to appoint new ethics adviser

The Government must reveal its plans to fill the vacant post of independent ethics adviser as Rishi Sunak promised to do as soon as he came to office, Labour has said.

In the Commons, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was granted an urgent question on the subject and she continued to press the Government to say when a new independent adviser on ministerial interests would be appointed, telling MPs: "How many times have I heard ‘soon, jam tomorrow, manana, manana’?

"We need the Prime Minister who promised to appoint an independent ethics adviser as one of his first acts to actually deal with this issue."

12:57 PM

PMQs snap analysis: Tory MPs will want to see more of combative Sunak

Today was probably the most combative Prime Minister's Questions of Rishi Sunak's young premiership as he engaged in furious clashes with Sir Keir Starmer on the subject of private schools.

Labour wants to strip private schools of their VAT exemption and Sir Keir tried to make the case for doing so in the Commons as he argued that "trickle down education is nonsense".

But Mr Sunak gave no quarter as he accused Sir Keir of "attacking the hardworking aspiration of millions of people in this country", claiming his opposite number is "not fit to lead".

Tory MPs will have loved seeing some real fire from the PM and will be hoping he replicates it in other areas where Sir Keir is trying to gain an advantage.

One thing is certain: Aspiration will be a key battleground at the next general election and both parties have launched early bids to try to claim ownership of the issue.

12:35 PM

PM labels nursing pay rise demands 'unreasonable'

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has labelled the Royal College of Nursing's 19 per cent pay rise demand "unreasonable".

Labour MP Andy McDonald had told the PM during PMQs: "It was sad to see in a video from his Oxford days the future prime minister saying he hadn't a single friend who was working class and he is not likely to make any soon because while he sits on a personal fortune he is refusing the reasonable demands of nurses, railway workers and many others forced to take industrial action just to make ends meet.

"Why doesn't he give them the wage increases they need and fund it by making the rich pay the same rate on unearned income as workers have to pay for their hard graft?"

Mr Sunak replied: "I have nothing but admiration and gratitude to our nurses for all the work they do but it is simply unreasonable and unaffordable to have a 19 per cent pay rise.

"If that is what the honourable gentleman thinks, I am sure the Labour Party can explain to us how they would pay for that and the impact it would have on inflation.

"But I tell you this, if he really wants to support working people maybe he should get off the picket line and end the strikes."

12:28 PM

Rishi Sunak dismisses SNP demand for path to Indyref2

Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader in Westminster, demanded that Rishi Sunak set out a path for Scotland to secure its independence.

He said that "when it comes to Brexit even their own voters don't agree with them" as he cited a recent YouGov survey which showed 56 per cent of the public believe it was wrong to leave the EU.

Mr Blackford said: "More and more people across these islands are wise to the fact that make Brexit work is just another stupid slogan. But Scotland cannot be stuck with a new Brexit together coalition of the Tories and Labour so on this St Andrew's Day can the Prime Minister finally tell people in Scotland the democratic path to escape Westminster control to deliver independence so we can get back to the European Union?"

Mr Sunak dismissed the demand and said: "He talks about democracy and votes. I think the difference between him and I is that I respect the result of referendums."

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons this afternoon
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons this afternoon

12:14 PM

Sir Keir Starmer claims Tories 'killing off aspiration'

Moving onto housing, Sir Keir Starmer said: "He talks about aspiration, they are killing off aspiration in this country and it is not just education. Why is the dream of home ownership far more remote now than it was when his party came into power 12 years ago?"

Rishi Sunak said: "Well, what have we done in those 12 years? The highest number of new homes started in 15 years. Largest number of first time buyers in 20 years.

"He talked about 10 years ago. What did we inherit? The lowest level of housebuilding in a century."

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, addresses the House of Commons during PMQs today
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, addresses the House of Commons during PMQs today

12:12 PM

PM claims Labour leader 'not fit to lead' in row over private schools

Rishi Sunak claimed Sir Keir Starmer is "not fit to lead" as they clashed over Labour's plan to scrap charitable status for private schools.

He said: "Whenever he attacks me about where I went to school he is attacking the hardworking aspiration of millions of people in this country.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons at PMQs this afternoon
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, addresses the House of Commons at PMQs this afternoon

"He is attacking people like my parents. This is a country that believes in opportunity not resentment and he doesn't understand that and that's why he is not fit to lead."

Sir Keir hit back and said: "If he thinks the route to better education in this country is tax breaks for private schools in the hope they might hand some of that down to state schools, that is laughable. Trickle down education is nonsense."

12:08 PM

Sir Keir Starmer challenges PM over private schools

Sir Keir Starmer told Rishi Sunak that Winchester College has a rowing club and a rifle club, charging over £45,000 a year in fees.

The Labour leader asked Mr Sunak: "Why did he hand them nearly £6million of taxpayers' money this year in what his Levelling Up Secretary calls egregious state support?"

Mr Sunak replied: "I am pleased he wants to talk about schools because we recently announced billions more funding for our schools. We are helping millions of the most disadvantaged children catch up with their lost learning and we are driving up school standards."

12:05 PM

Rishi Sunak defends stance on China

Rishi Sunak was challenged by a Tory MP over his failure to label China a "threat". The Prime Minister was told that Beijing is an "expanding, serious geopolitical threat".

Mr Sunak said that China has "fundamentally different values to ours" and he believes "actions speak louder than words".

12:03 PM

Rishi Sunak congratulates England football team

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, congratulated the England football team for beating Wales at the World Cup in Qatar.

He also said he was sure MPs would join him in "commending Wales for inspiring millions".

12:02 PM

PMQs now underway

Prime Minister's Questions is now underway in the House of Commons.

Rishi Sunak was given loud cheers from Tory MPs when he got to his feet at the despatch box.

11:51 AM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves No10 ahead of PMQs

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning - Justin Tallis /AFP
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning - Justin Tallis /AFP

11:38 AM

What will Sir Keir Starmer focus on at PMQs?

Sir Keir Starmer has a wide range of issues he could choose to focus on at PMQs which will get underway just after noon.

There are numerous Tory rebellions which the Labour leader could try to seize upon, including on house building targets, onshore wind and the migrant Channel crossings crisis.

But away from Tory splits, there is also the rumbling row between Labour and the Government over private schools.

Labour wants to remove the schools' charitable status which would see them lose their VAT exemption, likely resulting in fees skyrocketing. The Government wants to keep things the way they are now.

Labour has clearly decided that there is ground to be gained on the issue so it would not be a surprise to see Sir Keir use at least some of his PMQs questions on it.

11:26 AM

Pictured: Michael Gove arrives in Downing Street this morning

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, is pictured in Downing Street this morning - Tayfun Salci/Shutterstock
Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, is pictured in Downing Street this morning - Tayfun Salci/Shutterstock

11:09 AM

UK's tax burden rose faster than France and US - even before Hunt’s wealth raid

Britain's tax burden rose faster than France, the US, Italy and even several Nordic states last year as high earners were forced to hand more of their wages to the taxman, new analysis shows.

Taxes as a share of the economy rose by 1.4 percentage points to 33.5pc in 2021, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

That was the biggest rise among G7 economies apart from Germany and was also a bigger increase than seen in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, which are traditionally high tax countries.

You can read the full story here.

10:49 AM

Environment Secretary wants pollution targets published before Christmas

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has said she would be "very disappointed" if delayed nature and pollution targets are not published before Christmas.

She told peers on the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee this morning that "getting the environmental targets out" is one of her main priorities.

Asked whether they will be released by the end of December, she said: "I really hope so, that’s my intention. I’ll be very disappointed if they aren’t."

The Government came under fire in October after Ms Coffey admitted the deadline to publish the landmark legally-binding targets would be missed.

10:25 AM

Robert Jenrick sinks to last place in Cabinet popularity league table

Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, is now bottom of the Conservative Home website's Cabinet league table which is put together based on a survey of Tory party members.

Mr Jenrick, who has been front and centre of the Government's response to the migrant Channel crossings crisis in recent weeks, was third from bottom in the survey published on November 3, with a net satisfaction rating of plus 6.3.

He is now on minus 25.4.

10:19 AM

PM and Chancellor popularity among Tory grassroots plummets

Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt have both seen their popularity among Conservative Party members plummet in the wake of the Autumn Statement, according to a new survey of the Tory grassroots.

The Conservative Home website's latest Cabinet league table puts Mr Sunak sixth bottom with a net satisfaction rating of plus nine while Mr Hunt is second bottom with a rating of minus 9.9.

The previous survey of the grassroots published on November 3 had Mr Sunak in fifth place with a rating of plus 49.9 while the Chancellor was mid-table on plus 29.7

The fall in popularity for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor comes after they unveiled massive tax rises at the Autumn Statement on November 17.

10:06 AM

Migrant Channel crossings now above 43,000 for the year

More than 43,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, official figures have shown.

The Ministry of Defence said 884 people were detected in 17 boats yesterday. This suggests an average of around 52 per boat.

The latest crossings take the provisional total for 2022 to date to 43,500.

09:40 AM

Government could set targets on reducing economic inactivity

Mel Stride said he believes the Government could set targets for reducing the number of people who are economically inactive in the UK.

The Work and Pensions Secretary told MPs this morning that it is "conceivable" targets will be put in place.

He told the Work and Pensions Select Committee: "On economic inactivity I suspect there will be some. I can't say at this stage exactly what they will be.

"I am a believer generally that what gets measured tends to get done so I think there is that overarching case for that form of accountability."

There is currently just shy of nine million economically inactive Britons aged 16 to 64. A large portion of that number is people who are out of the labour market because of long-term sickness - rising from two million in spring 2019 to about 2.5 million in summer 2022.

09:29 AM

Mel Stride gives Department for Work and Pensions '8 out of 10'

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee this morning.

He was asked what his initial assessment was of the department after he took on the job at the end of October. He told MPs: "I think one of my predecessors gave it an eight out of 10... it is early days, I have only been in post for a matter of a few weeks.

"My initial observations are a department that is very large that is probably not used to being particularly nimble in some areas..."

Mr Stride said his rating for the department is "probably about an eight out of 10 but I intend to see it rising up towards 10".

09:25 AM

UK and Ukraine set to sign digital trade agreement

Kemi Badenoch, the International Trade Secretary, is set to sign a new digital trade agreement with Ukraine, which is being hailed by the Government as guaranteeing the war-torn country access to UK financial services as it seeks to rebuild its shattered economy.

Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, will sign the trade agreement with Ms Badenoch later today, with officials saying that the deal – based on a similar agreement earlier this year between the UK and Singapore – will support digital commerce through the facilitation of cross-border data flows.

09:13 AM

Senior Tory MP: China now a 'colossal' military power

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said China is now "colossal" as a military power. He said he believes "eventually" there will be a "clash" with Beijing.

Asked how much the "sleeping dragon" of China is watching the West's response to the invasion of Ukraine, Mr Ellwood told Sky News: "Well, sleeping dragon is a great way to describe this. It is not just its nuclear arsenal it is developing, its army, its air force, its navy are now one of the largest in the world, they are colossal and it is not just the South China Sea that they are dominating, they are starting to move their assets and put bases around the world.

"This is actually competing with the western way of life and it is going to lead eventually to a clash and we have been asleep over the last two or three decades if you like in seeing China advance but not actually confirming what we believe in allowing them to trade on their own terms, allowing them to advance in ways that really we should have called check and this is why the Prime Minister’s statement is a first but we do need to go further and supporting Taiwan has got to be high on the agenda there."

08:44 AM

Senior Tory MP: 'Lessons to be learnt from Ukraine' on protecting Taiwan

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said there are "lessons to be learnt" from Russia's invasion of Ukraine in terms of protecting Taiwan from China potentially trying to take control of the island.

Speaking during a visit to Taiwan, Mr Ellwood told Sky News: "China has long wanted control of this island, it is important to understand what is going on here, our minds have been focused on Ukraine but President Xi has made it clear that it will use force if necessary to take this island and I think there are lessons to be learnt from Ukraine.

"We didn’t do enough there to prevent an invasion and we are now feeling the economic and security consequences. China is now getting more aggressive, more assertive and if President Xi fulfils his promise, the impact would be huge."

08:35 AM

Ambulance response times will be 'incredibly stretched' during strikes

Ambulance response times are likely to become "incredibly strecthed" during industrial action this winter, an NHS leader has said.

Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC: "I think in terms of the ambulance strike, we know the challenges already of not having enough paramedics, call handlers available because we have seen the challenges to ambulance handover times that we have at the moment in terms of not being able to transfer their patients from ambulances into A&E departments and the challenges that brings when they can’t get back out on the road.

"Additional challenges on top of that I think will make response times incredibly stretched. But trust leaders, ambulance trust leaders, will be putting in place as many measures as possible to mitigate the risks of those actions."

08:31 AM

NHS faces 'incredibly testing time' this winter

Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said this winter will be an "incredibly testing time" for the NHS because of widespread strike action.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We know that this is going to be an incredibly testing time ahead this winter what with the RCN announcement of strikes and those strikes going ahead and now we know paramedics and it is likely to be other ambulance workers are going to be striking.

"What we can say is that trust leaders up and down the country have tried and tested plans in place to mitigate the risks of these strikes and they really understand the situation that NHS staff are in in terms of receiving a below inflation pay award, the real pressures and stresses that they have been working under.

"But what their main focus is at the moment is making sure that they can really run with as safe a service as possible and that is what they have been preparing for."

08:12 AM

NHS chief: Army will be 'incredibly welcome' to help during strike action

An NHS chief has said it will be "incredibly welcome" for the army to "play a role" in keeping the NHS afloat this winter as nurses and ambulance workers go on strike.

Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospital, community and ambulance services, was asked if the military could be called in to help and she said: "This is something that has been raised over the past couple of days and I think that it will be incredibly welcome for the army to play a role.

"But I think it is probably clear that that will be a role at the margins, for example, the army did help out during the pandemic but it was on issues such as helping with the vaccination drive.

"I think what we have got to remember is we will really welcome their support but that won’t play a central role in keeping the ambulance service going."

07:53 AM

Steve Barclay: NHS strike action is 'in nobody's best interests'

Unison announced last night that paramedics and other ambulance workers are set to strike this winter as patients face a mounting NHS crisis in the run-up to Christmas (you can read that story here).

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has now responded, saying in a statement issued this morning that industrial action is "in nobody's best interests". Here is the statement in full:

"I’m hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff and deeply regret some will be taking industrial action – which is in nobody’s best interests as we approach a challenging winter.

"Our economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable - each additional 1% pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700 million a year.

"We’ve prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full to give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, with those on the lowest salaries receiving an increase of up to 9.3%.

"This is on top of 3% last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider government support with the cost of living. Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.

"My door remains open to discuss with the unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work."

07:50 AM

Good morning

Good morning and welcome today's politics live blog.

There are two main themes in Westminster this morning: Growing concerns over public sector strike action this winter and increasing pressure on Rishi Sunak over a variety of Tory rebellions.

On the former, the Government is now facing the prospect of massive disruption in the NHS in the coming weeks after Unison announced paramedics and other ambulance workers are set to walkout.

On the latter, Mr Sunak faces a crunch Prime Minister's Questions at noon when he could well be challenged by Tory MPs on the thorny issues of house building targets, onshore wind or the migrant Channel crossings crisis.

It promises to be a busy day and I will guide you through the key developments.