Attack ad 'not racist': Starmer defends claim Sunak does not want child abusers jailed

Sir Keir Starmer has denied that a Labour attack advert aimed at Rishi Sunak is racist.

A series of recent ads, which have been described as "gutter politics" and criticised by some of Labour's own MPs, have targeted the prime minister personally.

In an interview with Sky News, Sophy Ridge questioned the party leader about one in particular.

It asks: "Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison?"

It adds, in capital letters: "Rishi Sunak doesn't."

Labour cited data from the Ministry of Justice showing that 4,500 adults convicted of sex acts on children had avoided a prison sentence since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Rishi Sunak was first elected as an MP in 2015.

Asked if the advert aligns with Sir Keir's own view of the prime minister, he replied: "I think if he did think they should go to prison he'd do something about it."

He added: "I stand by the advert. I think that as prime minister, you take responsibility for what happens in your criminal justice system. He is not taking responsibility for it."

Asked whether he took personal responsibility for every child abuser who escaped prison when he was leading the Crown Prosecution Service as director of public prosecutions (DPP), he said he took "full responsibility for every decision" when he was DPP.

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The statement opens the way for political opponents to trawl through his record and launch their own attack ads.

Ridge went on to ask: "We know far-right groups have weaponised the sexual abuse committed by Asian grooming gangs - a very small minority of Asians.

"Your attack ad accuses the first ever British Asian prime minister of not thinking child sex abusers should go to prison. Is it racist?"

Sir Keir replied: "No. There's a huge under analysis of the figures here, and I looked at this when I was director of public prosecutions. The vast majority of child sexual offences are not by people of Asian origin or anything else."

Ridge responded: "Absolutely. So it's not racist?"

"No of course it's not. Of course it's not," Sir Keir replied.

NHS 'on its face'

In a wide-ranging conversation, Sir Keir also said the prime minister "sort of smiles his way through the cost of living crisis without understanding the real impact".

And he said that according to his wife, who works in the NHS, the health service is not so much on its knees as "on its face".

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Regarding pensioners he has met, who Sir Keir said "can't make ends meet", he said: "I don't think the prime minister understands."

And speaking about the latest nurses' strike, which starts later today, Sir Keir said: "I don't want these strikes to go ahead. I don't think anybody does. I don't think the nurses do. But I do think the government has made a complete mess of them."

These strikes are different from previous ones because of a lack of "derogations" - or exemptions - meaning that emergency departments, intensive care and cancer care will be affected.

Hospitals in some regions are bracing themselves for "exceptionally low" staff numbers and Great Ormond Street Hospital's chief executive Matthew Shaw said he was "incredibly grateful" after staff and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) granted "safety exemptions".

Pushed several times on whether it was right for the RCN to call a stoppage without exemptions, Sir Keir failed to answer.

Asked whether the lack of derogations was wrong, he repeated his initial answer twice, saying: "I don't want to see the strikes go ahead."

Turning to the local elections, Ridge said the Conservatives are predicting the loss of 1,000 seats.

Sir Keir commented: "If they are, I find that astonishing," adding that it struck him as "just expectation management".

You can see the whole interview on Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News at 8.30am.