Keir Starmer has attacked Rishi Sunak over non-dom tax breaks and a limited windfall tax on energy companies, as he again condemned the prime minister as “too weak” to take on powerful vested interests.
Echoing a theme of recent prime minister’s questions in accusing Sunak of being unable to stand up to even his own MPs, Starmer turned his focus to people who avoid UK tax on their earnings by claiming non-domiciled status – as formerly enjoyed by Sunak’s wife.
The Labour leader said a typical family would face tax rises of £1,400 after last week’s autumn fiscal statement, adding: “Contrast that to a super-wealthy non-dom, living here but holding their income overseas. How much more has he asked them to pay?”
After Sunak avoided the question, accusing Starmer of “peddling fairy tales and gesture politics”, Starmer continued: “It wasn’t a trick question. The answer is, he’s not asked non-doms to pay a penny more. Every year, that’s £3.6bn thrown away because he won’t make them pay their taxes here.”
The issue of non-doms is particularly pertinent to the prime minister, after it emerged earlier this year that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, had previously claimed such status, paying no UK tax on dividends of up to £11.5m annually she receives from her stake in Infosys, the IT services company set up by her father.
In a further sign that Labour plans to target Sunak for his vast wealth, Starmer also referred, albeit obliquely, to a Guardian story this week that the prime minister is registered with a private GP practice that guarantees same-day appointments if needed.
Asked how many more doctors could be trained with the proceeds from getting non-domiciled people to pay UK tax, Sunak did not answer, with Starmer saying it was 15,000 a year. The Labour leader said: “We can carry on handing out tax breaks for the super rich, or we can live in a society where people don’t have to go private to get a doctor’s appointment. It’s that simple.”
Starmer also condemned Sunak for allowing energy firms to escape much of a windfall tax on suddenly high profits, and for cancelling a Commons vote that could have resulted in Tory MPs quashing current targets for homebuilding.
“He won’t push through planning reform. Instead he kills off the dream of homeownership,” Starmer said. “Too weak to take on his party, too weak to take on vested interests. Twelve long years of Tory government, five prime ministers and seven chancellors – why do they always clobber working people?”
Focusing entirely on the economy and taxation, Starmer asked Sunak why the UK is forecast to have the lowest upcoming growth of any countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group of industrialised nations.
“He’s in total denial,” Starmer said. “We’re bottom of the 38 OECD countries, who are all in the same boat when it comes to Covid and Ukraine. And he wants a pat on the back.
“There is only one party that’s crashed the economy, and they’re sitting there. Twelve years of Tory failure, followed by 12 weeks of Tory chaos. For a decade they’ve let our economy drift aimlessly, before suddenly cutting the parachute ropes and slamming it to the ground.”
Sunak pushed back, saying Starmer should tackle his “union paymasters” over public sector strikes. He accused the Labour leader of having campaigned to be Labour leader on a completely different platform to the one he since outlined, contrasting this with his refusal to back immediate tax cuts when battling Liz Truss for the Conservative leadership.
“This summer I stood on my principles and told the country what they needed to hear, even though it was difficult,” Sunak said. “When he ran for leader he told his party what they wanted to hear.”