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Rishi Sunak criticised for laughing off question about timing of general election – UK politics live


Sunak criticised for laughing off question about timing of general election

In his interview on BBC Radio Tees this morning Rishi Sunak laughed quite forcefully in response to two questions about when he would call the general election. It jarred to the extent that the presenter, Amy Oakden, asked him why he found that funny. (See 8.36am.) In his second interview, on Radio Newcastle, he produced a more muted laugh when asked the same question. (See 9.07am.)

Sunak does this quite a lot in interviews. At times it sounds like a nervous tic, but it is probably more of a deliberate strategy intended to disarm interviewers asking awkward questions.

But this morning it did sound a bit odd, and the Liberal Democrats have responded with a press release denouncing him (more or less) as a modern-day Marie Antoinette.

Helen Morgan, the Liberal Democrats’ local government spokesperson, said:

Rishi Sunak laughing in the face of people crying out for change is the perfect example of how careless, callous and chaotic this Conservative party is.

While Sunak clings on it’s obvious that people up and down the country are demanding he and this rabble stop hunkering in their offices.

Key events

At the weekend the Observer splashed on a story by Toby Helm saying government laywers have told ministers that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law in Gaza.

In an interview today, asked about the legality of what Israel is doing, Rishi Sunak said the government believes Israel has “the intention and the ability” to comply with international law. He said:

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.

Sunak’s comment seemed carefully worded. He did not say in this clip, as reported by PA Media, that he believed Israel was fully complying with international law.

Sunak calls for urgent investigation into air strike that killed aid workers in Gaza

Rishi Sunak has called for an urgent investigation by Israel into the airstrike that reportedly killed at least one British aid worker in Gaza.

Referring to the attack that killed seven people working for the World Central Kitchen charity, Sunak said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news. He went on:

They’re doing fantastic work bringing alleviation to the suffering that many are experiencing in Gaza. They should be praised and commended for what they’re doing.

They need to be allowed to do that work unhindered and it’s incumbent on Israel to make sure they can do that.

We’re asking Israel to investigate what happened urgently because clearly there are questions that need to be answered.

In posts on X, David Cameron, the foreign secretary, said there were reports that more than one British national was killed.

The news of the airstrike that killed World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers in Gaza is deeply distressing.

British Nationals are reported to have been killed, we are urgently working to verify this information and will provide full support to their families.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) April 2, 2024

The news of the airstrike that killed World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers in Gaza is deeply distressing.

British Nationals are reported to have been killed, we are urgently working to verify this information and will provide full support to their families.

The news of the airstrike that killed World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers in Gaza is deeply distressing.

British Nationals are reported to have been killed, we are urgently working to verify this information and will provide full support to their families.

We have called on Israel to immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened.

Gillian Keegan unable to defend provisions in crime bill suggesting rough sleepers could be arrested if they smell

Rishi Sunak was not the only cabinet minister criticised in an interview this morning over a response to a serious question. On Sky News Kay Burley asked Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, if she could justify a provision in the criminal justice bill suggesting rough sleepers might be arrested if they smell.

Keegan did not laugh, but she did smile broadly at the question. Burley said: “It’s not funny.” And Keegan replied:

I’m not saying it’s funny. I’m saying the most important thing is to help people off the streets.

The bill cleared its committee stage in the Commons two months ago, but the government still has not set a date for the next debate (the report stage). The delay is partly due to a row about provisions in the bill that criminalise rough sleeping. As Eleni Courea reports, some Tory MPs want to replace these clauses with a very different approach.

In her Sky interview this morning, Keegan accepted that it would be wrong to arrest rough sleepers for their odour. “People should not be arrested if they smell,” she said.

Gillian Keegan being interviewed by Kay Burley (left) Photograph: Sky News

But when Burley put it to her that this was what the bill did say, Keegan admitted that she had not looked at it closely.

I haven’t looked at that detail of it, but I guess the word is ‘excessive’, and I don’t know what they mean by that.

Here is the relevant clause of the bill. The reference to people smelling is in the final line, (5) (c).

Criminal justice bill Photograph: Home Office
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Sunak criticised for laughing off question about timing of general election

In his interview on BBC Radio Tees this morning Rishi Sunak laughed quite forcefully in response to two questions about when he would call the general election. It jarred to the extent that the presenter, Amy Oakden, asked him why he found that funny. (See 8.36am.) In his second interview, on Radio Newcastle, he produced a more muted laugh when asked the same question. (See 9.07am.)

Sunak does this quite a lot in interviews. At times it sounds like a nervous tic, but it is probably more of a deliberate strategy intended to disarm interviewers asking awkward questions.

But this morning it did sound a bit odd, and the Liberal Democrats have responded with a press release denouncing him (more or less) as a modern-day Marie Antoinette.

Helen Morgan, the Liberal Democrats’ local government spokesperson, said:

Rishi Sunak laughing in the face of people crying out for change is the perfect example of how careless, callous and chaotic this Conservative party is.

While Sunak clings on it’s obvious that people up and down the country are demanding he and this rabble stop hunkering in their offices.

Pat McFadden rejects claim from councillors quitting Labour that party stopping them expressing their views

Twenty Labour councillors from Lancashire have resigned in protest at the party’s national leadership. As Ben Quinn reports, they have complained that Labour HQ is imposing too much control over what they are allowed to say.

Mohammed Iqbal, one of the councillors leaving the party, told the BBC:

In the last few weeks there has been a culture developing from the national Labour party that seems to want to control anything that any councillor wants to say.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, was on the Today programme this morning. Asked about Iqbal’s comment, he said that having someone leave the party was “something to be regretted”, but he rejected claims the party was preventing councillors from expressing their views. He said:

Everybody is allowed to have their own views and I understand why people feel really strongly about this issue.

Sunak claims there has been ‘no change’ to his plan to call election in second half of year

On BBC Radio Newcastle Sunak was also asked when he would call an election.

Faced with this question in an earlier interview, Sunak declined to repeat his line about an election in the second half of the year being his working assumption. (See 8.36am.)

In his first answer to Bailey, Sunak again gave a very generalised answer. But when Bailey pressed him again, and asked “what’s so difficult about committing to a date”, Sunak replied:

Because there’s an official way we do that. I’ve said very repeatedly and clearly that my working assumption would be that we have a general election in the second half of the year. There’s been no change to that. So I’ve been very clear about that.

Sunak seems to have been planning for an election in October or November. But there has been a lot of speculation in recent days that Sunak could call an election in June or July, as a means of closing down a leadership challenge prompted by dire results for the Tories in the May local elections.

This morning’s answer probably won’t do a lot to quell that. Instead of just saying ‘I expect it to be in the second half of the year’, he delivered a convoluted answer referencing his previous line to take, which is normally a sign of a politician not wanting to engage with a question.

Also, an election in July would be in the second half of the year anyway.

Sunak refuses to accept child poverty has risen sharply in north-east of England since 2015

Rishi Sunak’s next interview was on BBC Radio Newcastle, where the interview started with the presenter, Matt Bailey, playing a clip from the manager of a nursery saying they had not been properly consulted about who to deliver the new entitlement.

In reply, Sunak said the policy was announced some time ago.

Providers asked for the rate they are paid for childcare by the government to be increased. That has happened, he said.

Q: Nurseries say they cannot find the staff.

Sunak said the government has taken time to build the sector. There are more people working in it than there were.

The government is trailing a £1,000 signing-on bonus for new staff, he said.

Red tape was also cut, he said.

Q: Talking of children, we cover child poverty a lot on this programme. In the north-east, more than a third of children are growing up in poverty. Why is that?

Sunak said nobody wants to see children growing up in poverty. That was heartbreaking, he said.

He claimed child poverty had fallen since 2010.

Bailey said in the north-east child poverty has risen by more than in any other region since 2015.

That seemed to be a reference to these figures.

Regional child poverty figures Photograph: Action for Children

Sunak replied “those numbers are different to what I’ve got”. He repeated the claim about child poverty falling since 2010.

Experts generally prefer to measure poverty by using the relative poverty figures, which show how many households have an income below 60% of the average. But Sunak was referring to the absolute poverty figures, which show how many households have an income below what the relative poverty figure was in a baseline year (2010-11 for this government), adjusted for inflation. In a growing economy, absolute poverty figures should always be going down.

Sunak is right to say that absolute poverty numbers have fallen since the Tories came to power. But recent figures show they are starting to rise.

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Q: We have asked listeners what they want to know, and their main question is, when will the general election be?

Sunak laughed, and said he had answered that question many times.

Q: Why are you laughing? And why can’t you answer?

Sunak said there is a process for holding elections.

He said what was more important was the choice facing people.

(He did not repeat the formula he has used before, about his “working assumption” being that it will be in the second half of the year.)

Sunak claimed that people were more interest in talking to him about the issues. And he claimed Keir Starmer could not say what his plan was for the future.

That was the end of the BBC Radio Tees interviews.

Sunak dismisses claims nurseries do not have capacity to deliver free childcare places promised by government

Rishi Sunak was on BBC Radio Tees first, where he was interviewed by Amy Oakden.

He started by saying the childcare offer was about giving parents choice. Working parents would eventually have access to 30 hours of free childcare from the moment their “little one” reaches nine months, he said.

Q: But providers say they are not going to be able to provide these places.

Sunak said the government “consulted extensively” with the sector, and did not introduce the offer straight away because it wanted to ensure capacity was available.

He went on:

We said, look, this is a really big change and we need to take the time to get it right, to give time for the sector to grow and expand and actually that’s why we’re doing it in a methodical way.

And, if you look, that is working. Staffing levels in the sector have increased and more people are at work in the sector and the number of places has also increased over the past year as well.

And what we’ve done, after consulting extensively with the sector, is increased the rates that childcare providers are paid, and those have increased extensively. It’s worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

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Rishi Sunak promotes Tories’ rollout of 15 hours’ free childcare for two-year-olds

Good morning. Parliament is in recess, but the local elections are only a month away and the Conservatives and Labour are both in campaign mode today, focusing in particular on childcare. Rishi Sunak is giving some local radio interviews this morning and you can get the gist of what he will be saying from the Department for Education’s press release. It starts like this.

Thousands of parents of two-year-olds across the country are getting help with their childcare costs as the first phase of the biggest ever expansion in childcare starts.

In this first stage, working parents of two-year-olds are now able to access 15 hours a week of government-funded childcare from 1 April.

The rollout of support is part of the government’s plan to help families – freeing thousands of couples from having to choose between having a family and a career, as over 150,000 children are on track to secure government-funded places from this week.

The Labour take is a bit different. Here is the start of the rival press release it issued yesterday.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson today slammed the Conservatives’ “childcare pledge without a plan” after a new dossier published by the party revealed families across the country struggling to access childcare.

The dossier contains:

-New data obtained by Labour from Ofsted showing that the number of childcare places fell by more than 1,000 in the six months between March and December 2023 alongside a fall in the number of providers.

-Testimonials from parents and nurseries in every region of England revealing a childcare system in disarray, with families unable to access already scarce places and struggling under the weight of sky-high childcare costs.

-Warnings from providers that they will be “forced to go bust” under the Conservatives’ new childcare offer.

As Eleni Courea reports, Labour is also launching a website today claiming Conservative turmoil under Rishi Sunak has cost the taxpayer £8.2bn and nearly a year in lost time.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak is on visits in the north-east of England.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

If you want to contact me, do use the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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