Rishi Sunak dismisses claims levelling up has failed after analysis showing no progress on half of targets– UK politics live

3 weeks ago

Sunak dismisses claims levelling up has failed

The Guardian has published an analysis today showing that the government is making no progress on half the levelling up targets it set itself. Here is the story by Kiran Stacey and Josh Halliday.

And here is the detailed analysis.

Rishi Sunak was asked about the report in an interview with ITV Tyne Tees. When it was put to him that the Guardian report shows the gap between the north-east and the south-east for healthy life expectancy is widening, not narrowing, Sunak brushed this aside by talking about his plans to stop children vaping. He replied:

When it comes to future health, one thing that I’ve brought forward is a plan to improve the health of our children. It’s been really important to me that we tackle vaping and indeed smoking. Talk to any parent, I’m a parent, or any teacher - they’ll talk to you about the scourge of vaping.

In response to another question, about Keir Starmer’s claim that Sunak was to blame for levelling up being a failure, Sunak said he did not accept that levelling up was not working. He explained:

We’ve got Conservative mayor Ben Houchen delivering for the area after years of Labour neglect. We’ve got the freeport that I was just at which is now attracting billions of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs. We’ve got the Treasury campus that I set up in Darlington. We’ve got a new railway station in Darlington and we’ve got high streets and town centres across Teesside being invested in, whether that’s Darlington, Hartlepool where we are, Stockton, Redcar. So that is levelling up in action across Teesside.

Rishi Sunak on a visit in Redcar today.
Rishi Sunak on a visit in Redcar today. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/PA

Key events

Afternoon summary

Rishi Sunak has dismissed claims nurseries do not have capacity to deliver on a major expansion of free care as concerns were put to him about whether the sector could cope with the influx of children.

Sunak has refused to accept claims that levelling up has failed. (See 3.29pm.)

Three British nationals have been killed by an Israeli airstrike that hit an aid convoy in Gaza, World Central Kitchen has confirmed. In response, Sunak has urged the Israelis to launch an urgent investigation into what happened. (See 11.31am.)

Sunak has been criticised for laughing off a question about when the general election will take place. (See 10.19am.)

Labour accuses Tories of telling 'lies' about its childcare plans

In his interview with ITV Tyne Tees Rishi Sunak also claimed that free childcare entitlement being provided by the Conservative government would be removed under Labour. He said:

You talk about Labour, Labour haven’t committed to this policy. They would actually take it away from working parents, which I don’t think is the right thing to do.

And in Wales where Labour are in charge and they’ve been given the money by the UK Government, they’ve decided not to match this offer.

So I think that there’s a very clear contrast here. We are in the process of rolling out more free childcare for working parents cause I think that’s the right thing to do. The Labour party have been clear that they oppose those plans and I don’t think that’s any good for families.

This is a more extreme version of what Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has said in an open letter released today addressed to Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor. Keegan suggests there is uncertainty about what Labour will do.

Whilst this @Conservatives government is rolling-out the largest expansion of childcare in our country’s history, Labour are refusing to come clean what their plan is for childcare.

My letter to the Shadow Education Secretary and Shadow Chancellor 👇 pic.twitter.com/qei2KiHHR5

— Gillian Keegan MP (@GillianKeegan) April 2, 2024

Whilst this @Conservatives government is rolling-out the largest expansion of childcare in our country’s history, Labour are refusing to come clean what their plan is for childcare.

My letter to the Shadow Education Secretary and Shadow Chancellor

In response, Phillipson has accused the Tories of peddling “nonsense” and “lies”.

The state of this.

Utter nonsense. Rather than peddle lies, either get on with your job or call a general election. https://t.co/g9ykqcJdaD

— Bridget Phillipson (@bphillipsonMP) April 2, 2024

The state of this.

Utter nonsense. Rather than peddle lies, either get on with your job or call a general election

The Tory claims are partly based on an interview Phillipson gave to Newsnight last week in which she said that the nursery system did not have the capacity to provide what the government is offering and that a Labour review (originally announced in October last year) would consider the way forward. The Tories interpreted this as evidence that Labour is not fully committed to its plan, which will not be rolled out in full until September 2025.

Since then Labour has said that it is not planning to remove childcare entitlement from parents. In a statement yesterday Phillipson said:

After 14 years of Tory failure, it will be Labour who get on with the job and finally deliver the much-needed childcare for parents.

That is why we have commissioned respected former Ofsted Inspector Sir David Bell to lead a review on early education and childcare to guarantee early years entitlements for parents.

Sunak dismisses claims levelling up has failed

The Guardian has published an analysis today showing that the government is making no progress on half the levelling up targets it set itself. Here is the story by Kiran Stacey and Josh Halliday.

And here is the detailed analysis.

Rishi Sunak was asked about the report in an interview with ITV Tyne Tees. When it was put to him that the Guardian report shows the gap between the north-east and the south-east for healthy life expectancy is widening, not narrowing, Sunak brushed this aside by talking about his plans to stop children vaping. He replied:

When it comes to future health, one thing that I’ve brought forward is a plan to improve the health of our children. It’s been really important to me that we tackle vaping and indeed smoking. Talk to any parent, I’m a parent, or any teacher - they’ll talk to you about the scourge of vaping.

In response to another question, about Keir Starmer’s claim that Sunak was to blame for levelling up being a failure, Sunak said he did not accept that levelling up was not working. He explained:

We’ve got Conservative mayor Ben Houchen delivering for the area after years of Labour neglect. We’ve got the freeport that I was just at which is now attracting billions of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs. We’ve got the Treasury campus that I set up in Darlington. We’ve got a new railway station in Darlington and we’ve got high streets and town centres across Teesside being invested in, whether that’s Darlington, Hartlepool where we are, Stockton, Redcar. So that is levelling up in action across Teesside.

Rishi Sunak on a visit in Redcar today.
Rishi Sunak on a visit in Redcar today. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/PA

SNP calls for end to arms sales to Israel - and says Labour 'on wrong side of history' because it's not doing so too

In an interview with Sky News this morning Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, refused to back calls for an end to arms sales to Israel. In response Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, said this showed Labour was “on the wrong side of history over the war in Gaza”.

Flynn claimed:

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party is on the wrong side of history over the war in Gaza. With more than 30,000 Palestinian children, women and men killed, and a devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding, history will remember Starmer’s stance for what it is - a shameful abdication of moral duty.

Having spent months condoning the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and refusing to back an immediate ceasefire, the Labour party is making the same mistake all over again by backing continued arms sales to Israel.

In contrast, the SNP is clear in our values. There must be an immediate ceasefire now - and the UK must take concrete action to secure one, including by ending arms sales to Israel immediately.

Rishi Sunak walking along the newly constructed South Bank quay in Redcar today with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen (right) and Redcar MP Jacob Young (left).
Rishi Sunak walking along the newly constructed South Bank quay in Redcar today with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen (right) and Redcar MP Jacob Young (left). Photograph: Ian Forsyth/PA
Rishi Sunak visiting SeAH steel Holding's construction of a wind tech factory today with Ben Houchen (left) and Redcar MP Jacob Young (right).
Rishi Sunak visiting SeAH steel Holding's construction of a wind tech factory today with Ben Houchen (left) and Redcar MP Jacob Young (right). Photograph: Ian Forsyth/PA

Sunak refuses to deny report claiming government lawyers have privately said Israel in breach of international law

Rishi Sunak has refused to deny a report saying government lawyers have told ministers that Israel is in breach of international law in Gaza. I quoted the words he used earlier (see 11.55am), using what was on the PA Media wire, but BBC News has now broadcast the full clip, including the question put to Sunak.

Asked if the government has received advice from its own lawyers saying Israel has breached international humanitarian law, Sunak replied:

Our view is longstanding that Israel has both the intention and the ability to comply with international humanitarian law. I’ve made that very clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu whenever I’ve spoken to him.

There have been too many civilian deaths in Gaza. Of course we want to see an immediate humanitarian pause so that we can get the hostages out and more aid into the region.

The question was prompted by a story in the Observer at the weekend saying the government has been told by its lawyers that Israel is in breach of international law. As Toby Helm reported, Alicia Kearns, the Tory chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee who is a former Foreign Office official, has asserted this as fact, and it has not been denied by the government.

At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson would not comment on internal government advice. But she said the government acted on legal advice, including in decisions about arms export licences.

Labour has sought to capitalise on the clip of Rishi Sunak laughing this morning when asked a question about the timing of the general election (see 10.19am) by using it in a campaign advert. You can “stop him laughing” by voting Labour in the local elections, the party says.

Rishi Sunak thinks it’s funny that you want a chance to vote for change.

You can stop him laughing by voting for it on Thursday 2 May. pic.twitter.com/wVMtcKawn7

— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) April 2, 2024

No 10 suggests good weather a factor as figures show small boat arrivals 43% higher than at same point in 2023

Downing Street has suggested that good weather is partly to blame for small boat arrivals being higher this year than at the same point last year. Almost 800 people arrived this way across the Channel over the Easter weekend, according to Home Office figures.

Asked about the figures, the PM’s spokesperson told reporters at the morning lobby briefing:

We have seen increases and we know that criminal gangs will seek to exploit opportunities and weather, and we know that also French police are facing increasing violence and disruption on the ground on French beaches.

We need to keep stepping up our efforts and adapting to the gangs who continually adapt their own tactics. That’s why, alongside continuing that work, we have to fundamentally break the business model, and that’s what the Rwanda partnership will do.

According to a Labour party analysis issued yesterday, small boat arrivals are now 43% higher than they were at the same point last year. Labour said:

Even with no crossings on Good Friday … the 791 small boat arrivals on Saturday and Sunday (30th-31st March 2024) made it the busiest ever Easter weekend for small boats crossing the Channel, overtaking the 600 that arrived over the four days from 15th-18th April 2022, and well over double the 336 who arrived over the Easter weekend from 7th-10th April 2023.

Sunday’s 442 arrivals also took the total for the year so far to 5,435, continuing the busiest start to a year on record and making this the only time that the 5,000 milestone has been reached before the end of March. The number of arrivals is now 43% higher than the same point in 2023 (3,793), and almost 20 per cent higher than the previous record year for small boat arrivals in 2022 (4,548).

The 3,180 people who arrived by small boats in the month of March 2024 is the highest monthly total since September last year, and more than 3.75 times the number of people who made the journey in March 2023 (840).

At the lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said Rishi Sunak still thought the government would be able to “stop the boats”. She said that when flights to Rwanda started, the deterrent effect would kick in.

Rishi Sunak meeting parents at Aldersyde Day Nursery in Hartlepool this morning.
Rishi Sunak meeting parents at Aldersyde Day Nursery in Hartlepool this morning. Photograph: Paul Ellis/PA
Sunak with children at the Aldersyde Day Nursery.
Sunak with children at the Aldersyde Day Nursery. Photograph: Paul Ellis/PA

No 10 says rough sleepers should not be arrested over their smell, despite new legislation suggesting this could happen

Downing Street has said that people sleeping rough should not face arrest just because they smell. Despite the crimininal justice bill including provisions that suggest this could happen (see 11.02am), a spokesperson for the prime minister said Rishi Sunak would not approve of this. Asked if Sunak agreed with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, who told Sky News this morning that homeless people should not face arrest just if they smell, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”

But the spokesperson also defended the bill, saying it was about “getting rid of an outdated Vagrancy Act which criminalises people for being homeless”. She went on:

We are clear that nobody should be criminalised for being homeless and having nowhere to live, but at the same time our legislation has provisions in place which are designed to assist the police with addressing behaviour that could make the public feel unsafe or intimidated, and I think it’s right to ensure that as we update the outdated Vagrancy Act we keep some of those powers in place.

The spokesperson said the police would get guidance on how to implement the legislation. But she declined to say when the legislation would return to the Commons for its report stage debate. For the last two months it has been stalled.

Sunak criticises Scottish government's new hate crime law, saying UK government won't copy it

Rishi Sunak has criticised the Scottish government’s new hate crime law, saying it is not one that the UK government will follow. He made the comment when asked if he backed JK Rowling, the author and gender critical feminist who, in a post on X, claimed the new legislation was “wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces” and challenged the police to arrest her for describing various trans women as men.

Asked about Rowling’s stance, Sunak said:

We’re not going to do anything like that [the legislation] here in England. We should not be criminalising people saying common sense things about biological sex. Clearly that isn’t right. We have a proud tradition of free speech. And I think it just shows, whether it’s the SNP or Labour, these are the wrongs that are priorities for the country.

Asked if that meant he supported Rowling’s approach, Sunak said:

It’s not not right for me to comment on police matters, individual matters, but what I do support very strongly is people’s right to free speech and nobody should be criminalised for saying common sense things about biological sex.

The law does not automatically criminalise people for saying “common sense things about biological sex”. It is intended to criminalise being “threatening, abusive or insulting” to various groups of people, including transgender people, and intending to stir up hatred against them. But it has only just come into force, and has not been tested yet, and there are claims that it could be applied to people who misgender trans people.

Here is the Scottish government’s briefing on how the law works.

Rishi Sunak on BBC News
Rishi Sunak on BBC News Photograph: BBC
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