Keir Starmer 'beats' Rishi Sunak in Sky leaders' election debate

Snap YouGov poll shows 64% of people feel Labour leader performed better than the prime minister.

Beth Rigby and Keir Starmer on the debate. (Sky)
Beth Rigby repeatedly grilled Keir Starmer over his previous support for Jeremy Corbyn. (Sky)

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer defended their tax plans in their latest election debate on Sky News on Wednesday as the Labour leader insisted he was not a "political robot" and the PM said that he ate Haribos and Twixes when asked to name something likeable about himself.

According to a snap YouGov poll, 64% of people watching said Starmer performed better in the debate, while just 36% said it was Sunak, who at times appeared deflated.

Starmer started off by swerving questions on tax rises and his previous support for Jeremy Corbyn.

Sky News’s Beth Rigby asked several times whether taxes would rise after July if he became Prime Minister.

But the Labour leader refused to be drawn, insisting only that no tax rises were needed “for the plans in our manifesto”.

He also dodged early questions about the last general election, in 2019, when he publicly claimed his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn would make “a great prime minister” - despite admitting on air he was privately “certain” his party would lose.

Rigby and Sunak during the debate. (Sky)
Rigby and Sunak during the debate. (Sky)

Addressing the increasing possibility of moving into Downing Street next month, he reflected on the impact the top job could have on his family, particularly his children, who he said he wanted to be able to “walk to school and have their own lives” as much as possible.

But he drew a groan from the live audience at Grimsby Town Hall when he referenced his father’s job as a toolmaker, a repeated refrain throughout the campaign so far.

The only real difficulty he faced under questioning was when a member of the public left him briefly stumped by the suggestion he had turned into a “political robot” in recent months.

Responding after a brief pause and a laugh from the audience, Starmer stressed a history of public service, adding he was not “tribally political”.

Sunak faced a significantly tougher time in contrast, particularly when quizzed on the NHS, prompting at least one boo from the audience when he blamed industrial action for the lack of progress on reducing waiting lists.

The PM also flailed over the D-Day row and several times repeated apologies for leaving commemorations in Normandy early to record a TV interview.

One member of the audience said Starmer had appeared more like a political robot. (Sky)
One member of the audience said Starmer had appeared more like a political robot. (Sky)

He said: “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.”

He was also forced to say sorry for the ‘Partygate’ scandal during the coronavirus pandemic after it was raised by a former Conservative Party chairman who said she was now an “undecided voter” and was “ashamed” of the party.

She said: “That picture of the queen left to bury her husband on her own during Covid, following guidance we all followed, knowing what happened in Downing Street, that’s where trust broke down.

“I appreciate the apology tonight but there’s a long way to go to rebuild that [trust].

Sunak was also challenged on tax, admitting the burden was “too high”, prompting heckles from the audience, but blamed it on “difficult decisions during the pandemic”.

Read more:

Follow below for a full rundown of Wednesday nigh's debate:

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

    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 plans 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.

    Read the full story from the Evening Standard.

  • 'There’s an overwhelming sense that everything is broken,' says Daisy Cooper

    Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said following the debate that there was an overwhelming sense that "everything is broken".

    "There are millions of people who still haven't made up their minds," she said. "The impression we’re getting speaking to people on the doorstep is there’s a lot of people who feel like they’ve been taken for granted for a very long time."

  • Starmer 'won' debate, poll shows

    A snap poll after the Sky News Battle For No 10 programme found Sir Keir Starmer came out on top among viewers.

    In the YouGov poll commissioned by the channel, 64% of respondents thought the Labour leader won the night, while 36% thought Rishi Sunak had been stronger.

    Sky said 1,864 respondents took part in the poll.

  • Audience member's reaction to Sunak shared on social media

  • 'I would vote neither' says audience member

    Asked whether hearing the leaders this evening had changed anyone's mind, several members of the audience said their minds had been changed.

    One man said he had come to the event preferring Starmer, but after hearing the debate, decided he would vote for neither of them.

  • Audience gasp as post-Brexit migration numbers revealed to Rishi Sunak

    Post-Brexit migration numbers shocked the audience at Wednesday’s general election debate.

    With Rishi Sunak sat on stage, host Beth Rigby noted that the total net migration figure into the UK in the past three years was 1.9 million, compared to 836,000 people in the three years running up to the 2016 referendum.

    Read the full story from The Independent.

  • Sunak asked about National Service

    Rishi Sunak was asked about his plans for national service after he said he would be pleased if his daughters took part.

    He was asked if he was prepared to hand out criminal records to those who refused to take part, which he ruled out.

    "We will set up a royal commission.," he said. "There’s a lot of models from across Europe to look at. That's how other countries do it. When you talk to other countries the amount of young people that recommend it and love it is extremely high."

  • Sunak told trust broke down during Covid when late Queen buried Prince Philip

    Asking a question about rebuilding trust and the debacle at the D-Day memorial, an audience member told Sunak: "I just think that picture of the queen left to bury her husband on her own during covid following guidance we all followed. knowing what happened in downing street, that’s where trust broke down.

    "I appreciate the apology tonight but there’s a long way to go to rebuild that."

  • Sunak asked about racism, sexism and misogyny in policing

    Asked about systemic racism, sexism and misogyny in public institutions like the police, Sunak said there was now a focus on violence against women and girls, and added that police numbers were at a record high.

    "In the Met in particular there are a range of issues," he said, adding that the system was being reformed.

  • Sunak asked why the government has 'spoiled the hopes and dreams' of people wanting to buy homes

    Rishi Sunak is taking questions from the audience. He was asked by Ian, a retired teacher, from Grimsby, about mortgages.

    In said: "Mortgages are less affordable particularly for people such as my daughter. Why has your government spoiled their hopes and dreams?"

    Sunak replied: "Hopefully we’re on the right path and you will see that reflected in mortgage rates." He added that he had pledged to abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers purchasing homes under £425,000.

  • 'Tetchy Sunak is back'

    Social media users discussed Rishi Sunak getting 'tetchy'.

  • Sunak says net migration numbers 'too high'

    Rigby and Sunak during the debate. (Sky)
    Rigby and Sunak during the debate. (Sky)

    Sunak was asked about Brexit and immigration.

    "Immigration is too high," Sunak said, agreeing that people voted for Brexit to "take back control of our borders".

    The total net migration figure to 2016 was 836,000 people, Beth Rigby told Sunak, adding that net migration had more than doubled since the UK left the EU.

    "I’m sure people, feel frustrated," he said. "The numbers are too high. I’m not making any bones about that. But i can tell you I’ve started to bring them down. Last year numbers were down by 10%. This year the number of visas is down by a quarter and the forecasts show we’re on track to halve net migration in just over a year."

  • Sunak booed as he suggests doctors strikes responsible for NHS waiting lists

    Rishi Sunak was booed from the back of the room after he suggested that the NHS had such high waiting lists as a result of the junior doctors' strikes.

  • Sunak asked 'how do we know you'll still be PM in a year's time'

    Sunak during the debate. (Sky News)
    Sunak during the debate. (Sky News)

    Sunak was asked, "How do we know you’ll still be prime minister in a year’s time?"

    He replied: "Of course we haven't got everything right but what I can do is work as hard as I can to deliver the stability we said we would. The economy’s growing wages are rising and that’s why we’re having this election, to talk about the future."

  • Sunak asked about D-Day commemoration

    Sunak has said he was 'incredibly sad' to have caused people hurt by leaving the D-Day commemoration early and wanted to assure veterans the UK would look after them.

    "The last thing I wanted to do was cause any hurt. I apologise unreservedly for that. I was privileged to participate in the commemoration events, but also demonstrate my commitment to making this the best country in the world to be a veteran," he said.

    "I was incredibly sad to have caused people hurt and upset and i hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me.

  • Rishi Sunak is in the hotseat

    Beth Rigby has asked Rishi Sunak "what is going so wrong?".

    Sunak said it had not been an easy 18 months in general but was excited to talk to people about the future.

    "We've got a clear plan for the future," he said.

  • What the public says on private schools being taxed

  • Starmer accused of being a "political robot"

    An audience member said Starmer had previously seemed relatable but had turned into a "political robot" - he was asked how people could be persuaded to vote for him.

    Starmer replied that he went into politics late in life because he wanted to serve people.

    "Do you think you've changed," the audience member interjected.

    "I'm much clearer in my mind that the country should come first and the party second," he said.

  • Starmer asked about taxing private schools

    Starmer was asked whether he would reconsider taxing private schools amid fears working people would be forced out of the system.

    "I have nothing against private schools," Starmer said, adding that he recognised that people worked hard to send their children there.

    "In our state secondary schools we have thousands of teachers missing in the subjects they need. For those children state secondary schools that’s not a one-year problem or a two-year problem, that’s a lifetime problem."

  • Junior doctor asks when Starmer will commit to pay medics fairly

    Starmer said he was "frustrated" that junior doctor strikes had gone on for so long and that they were bad for patients.

    "Instead of arguing about who gets in the room first to negotiate, we would roll up our sleeves... get in the room and negotiate," he said.

    Beth Rigby asked if he would pay them more.

    "Pay, progression, conditions and all of that can be negotiated," he said adding that a 35% pay rise was not affordable."

    "I don’t think doctors want to be on strike. I know the pressure NHS staff are under. It’s been unrelenting. We will roll up our sleeves, get in the room and settle this dispute so the country can move forward. The sooner we can get some grown ups in the room the better."

  • How will you fund change, Starmer asked

    Starmer said he had first steps for things he wanted to do as soon as he got into power and said he could bring about the change "the country so desperately need".

  • Starmer takes questions from the audience

    Sharon from Grimsby asked about inequality and Starmer's plans to target that.
    Sharon from Grimsby asked about inequality and Starmer's plans to target that.

    Sharon from Grimsby has asked Starmer about social housing, foodbank use and inequality across the UK.

    Starmer said he was aware of the social problems in Grimsby and beyond, and said the government must work with local communities to build a growth plan for areas that need help.

  • Starmer says his biggest fear is for his family

    Asked about his biggest fears should he become prime minister, Starmer said fears for his children kept him up at night.

    "The only real fear I have is for my family," he said. "I have a boy just turning 16, a girl who is 13. These are difficult ages for children. My only fear is the impact it will have on them.

    "That’s why we’ve never had a photoshoot with them. I don’t fear big decisions. My only fear and the only thing which keeps me up at night is worrying about my children."

  • Starmer says he will not scrap two child benefit cap

    Beth Rigby and Keir Starmer during the election debate. (Sky)
    Beth Rigby and Keir Starmer during the election debate. (Sky)

    Keir Starmer said he would not scrap the two-child benefit cap, which would lift 1 million children out of poverty, suggesting Labour would not be able to manage the cut.

    "Huge damage has been done to the economy under this government," Starmer said.

    "If we come into government we’re going to inherit broken everything. I’m not going to make promises i can’t keep. I know the benefits. We will have a strategy for child poverty but people are fed up with politicians who before an election promise everything and then after the election they don’t."

  • Laughs as Starmer says his father was a toolmaker

    Keir Starmer, acknowledging that he earns a lot of money in his current role, once again stressed that his father was a toolmaker - prompting a laugh from the audience (who have not doubt heard this line repeated on numerous occasions).

    "My dad was a toolmaker, my mum was a nurse. We couldn’t make ends meet. I know what it's like to feel anxious about the next bill you can’t pay and a lot of people are in the same position I was in," he said.

  • Starmer says he has changed position on some pledges

    Keir Starmer wrote the 10 pledges which he made during the 2020 Labour leadership election himself, he has told Sky News’s The Battle For Number 10 programme.

    The Labour leader said: “I put them before the membership of our party. Most of them are still in place.”

    Starmer added: “Have I changed my position on those pledges? Yes, I have, because I’ve asked myself honestly are these country-first party-second, and if the answer to that question is no, then I’ve changed them, because I think this party should always put the country first.”

  • Sunak's comments on Sky come back to bite him

  • Public divided on 'ruthless' Rigby

    The reaction on social media suggests Beth Rigby has some fans - but others want her to interrupt less.

  • Starmer says he will not put up taxes

    Starmer has been asked why he ditched the idea of raising taxes on people earning over £80,000.

    "All of our plans are fully costed, we will not raise taxes on working people," he said, adding that "nothing requires us to raise tax".

    "I accept that previous Labour leaders have pulled the tax lever every time," he said, adding that he would not do that.

    "Nothing requires us to raise tax. I want to do things differently. I want to grow our economy. Previous labour leaders have pulled the taps and driven up spending. Our manifesto tomorrow will be a plan for wealth creation."

  • Starmer dodges questions on Corbyn

     Keir Starmer during the election debate. (Sky)
    Keir Starmer during the election debate. (Sky)

    Asked whether he agreed with a previous statement that Jeremy Corbyn would make a great prime minister, Keir Starmer said he :"honestly didn't think" Labour had a chance of winning in 2019 but wanted to "campaign for colleagues".

    He added: "I honestly didn't think we would have a chance of winning. I wanted to campaign for our colleagues and once we got the result we did get I decided to step up to lead the party and to change it and put it back in the service of working people."

  • Starmer takes questions from Beth Rigby first

    The evening has kicked off with a question from Beth Rigby to Keir Starmer - she has asked whether his leadership has been a litany of failed policies.

    Starmer has said he changed the Labour Party to "put it back in the service of working people".

  • Labour Party manifesto 2024: Keir Starmer’s election promises

    The Labour Party ruled out any new tax rises should they win the July 4 general election, with several of the party’s leaders promising to never “play fast and loose” with the country’s finances.

    Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, pledged no further hikes beyond what Labour has already announced, which include extending the windfall tax on energy companies’ profits, imposing VAT on private school fees and ensuring that private equity bonuses are “taxed appropriately”.

    Read the full story from The Telegraph.

  • Conservative Party manifesto 2024: Rishi Sunak’s policies for the general election

    Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, delivers a speech to launch the Conservatives' general election manifesto in Silverstone, England, on Tuesday June 11, 2024, in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. (Benjamin Cremel, Pool Photo via AP)
    Rishi Sunak delivers his manifesto (Benjamin Cremel/ AP)

    The Conservatives have set out their pitch to the public in one of Rishi Sunak’s last chances to trigger a comeback in the polls as the country counts down to the general election.

    The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have spent the past few weeks laying the groundwork for their manifesto announcement and hinting at the policies likely to make the cut in their pledge to the nation.

    Read the full story from The Telegraph.

  • Opinion poll round-up on day 21 of the election campaign

    Four nationwide opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, along with a separate survey of voting intention in Scotland.

    A poll by Savanta, carried out online from June 7-9 among 2,219 UK adults, gives Labour a lead of 19 percentage points over the Conservatives.

    The figures are Labour 44%, Conservative 25%, Reform 10%, Liberal Democrats 9%, Green 4%, SNP 3% and other parties 4%.

    Read the full story from PA.

  • Sunak 'always pumped' for debates

    Rishi Sunak said he is “always pumped” when asked how he was feeling ahead of facing a grilling alongside Keir Starmer on Wednesday evening.

    The prime minister told journalists on the campaign trail: “I’m always pumped – I’m fuelled by an enormous amount of sugar.”

  • Rishi Sunak declares he has not given up after minister warns of Labour ‘supermajority’

    Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Rishi Sunak, delivers a speech to launch the Conservatives' general election manifesto in Silverstone, England, on Tuesday June 11, 2024, in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. (Benjamin Cremel, Pool Photo via AP)
    Rishi Sunak said he had not given up. (AP)

    Rishi Sunak insisted he has not accepted defeat in the election after a senior cabinet minister appeared to concede the Conservatives have lost.

    A defiant prime minister said he had “absolutely not” given up on winning just a day after launching the Tory manifesto.

    His denial followed comments by the defence secretary Grant Shapps, who urged voters not to give Labour a “supermajority”.

    Read the full story from The Independent.

  • When is the next UK general election TV debate?

    Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are gearing up for their second TV debate of the general election campaign.

    The prime minister and the Labour leader will be under the microscope again during a live broadcast on Sky News on Wednesday 12 June.

    Their first on-screen battle, shown on ITV1 on Tuesday 4 June, was an often ill-tempered affair, characterised by regular interrupting, constant accusations and evasive responses.

    Read the full story from Yahoo News.

  • A look behind the scenes of the election debate

    What's going on ahead of the debate?

  • Who will win the next general election? Latest polls and odds

    Cabinet minister Grant Shapps has suggested the Tories are now fighting to stop Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour securing a “supermajority” in the 4 July election.

    The defence secretary told Times Radio on Wednesday that the party, in the wake of its manifesto launch on Tuesday, is still fighting for every seat and “the polls have been wrong before”.

    But he added that to ensure proper accountability, “you don’t want to have somebody receive a supermajority” like Tony Blair’s in 1997.

    Read the full story from Yahoo News.