Taxes, immigration and a damning poll: Five key takeaways as Starmer and Sunak grilled in Sky election debate

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer faced audience questions on Sky News on Wednesday night as the general election campaign went to Grimsby.

The two party leaders were grilled by political editor Beth Rigby, before taking questions from voters from the northeast town and across the country.

The prime minister and Labour leader set out their parties’ visions for the country, answering questions on the economy, the NHS and immigration.

Here are five key moments from the exchanges:


Sunak and Starmer in the debate (PA/Getty)
Sunak and Starmer in the debate (PA/Getty)

Sir Keir said that a Labour government would not raise income tax, national insurance contributions or VAT, describing the pledge as a “triple lock”.

He repeatedly refused to rule out raising corporation tax or capital gains tax to fund public services, telling Ms Rigby that he would not write the next five years of budgets live on air.

Mr Sunak insisted people’s taxes would be cut in the next parliament under a Conservative government, as Ms Rigby presented him with analysis suggesting the tax burden would actually rise.

The prime minister said he could not comment on analysis he had not seen, but added the tax burden was “too high”, prompting further heckles from the audience.


Mr Sunak insisted that his plan to curb illegal migration was working despite record numbers of Channel crossings.

The PM made “stopping the boats” one of his five key pledges when he first entered Downing Street in October 2023.

He insisted that his Rwanda plan was the right policy to deter people from making the treacherous journey across the Channel but declined to guarantee that fights would take off before the election.

As of May, some 10,000 people had already attempted the journey in 2024 – higher than the total for the first five months of any year since current figures began in 2018.

Sunak insists his plan to stop the boats is working (PA Wire)
Sunak insists his plan to stop the boats is working (PA Wire)

Snap poll gives Starmer a huge win

A snap poll conducted after the debate gave Sir Keir a huge victory over Mr Sunak in another blow to the PM’s faltering election campaign.

A YouGov survey, conducted after Sky’s Battle for Number 10, found that two-thirds of voters felt the Labour leader performed better than Mr Sunak in the clash.

Some 64 per cent said Sir Keir performed better, with 36 per cent saying the prime minister was the winner. YouGov spoke to 1,864 voters shortly after the debate, during which the two leaders were grilled on their plans for government.

Poll says Starmer won debate (Getty Images)
Poll says Starmer won debate (Getty Images)

‘True blue’ Amy gives Sunak both barrels

An audience member called Amy tore into Mr Sunak over what she described as the Tories’ terrible behaviour over the past few years.

Amy, a former Conservative Party chairperson, said she was a “true blue” who had voted for the party all her life but was undecided about who she would vote for on 4 July.

She was visibly angry about Partygate, referencing an event that took place on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

Amy also said she was “ashamed” of the PM for his decision to leave a D-Day event early.

A Tory voter said she was ‘ashamed’ of the PM (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
A Tory voter said she was ‘ashamed’ of the PM (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Starmer asked whether he is a ‘political robot’

Sir Keir seemed briefly stumped after an audience member suggested he had become a “political robot” and asked how he would convince people to vote for him.

After a brief pause and a laugh from the audience, Sir Keir stressed a history of public service, particularly as director of public prosecutions, and said he was not “tribally political”.

Asked whether Sir Keir had convinced him, the audience member said: “You don’t seem to answer the question.”