Labour turn on ‘liar’ Sunak over Tory tax claims

Labour branded Rishi Sunak a liar after it emerged senior officials had told ministers not to say civil servants were behind Tory claims that Sir Keir Starmer was planning tax hikes if elected.

The Prime Minister repeatedly highlighted the allegation during his ITV head-to-head debate with Sir Keir Starmer, claiming “independent Treasury officials” have costed Labour’s policies “and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise for everyone”.

But the Treasury’s permanent secretary James Bowler said ministers had been told not to suggest civil servants produced the figure at the heart of the Tory attack.

The claim comes from a document produced by the Conservatives which made a series of assumptions to estimate the cost that might be attached to potential Labour policies.

It stated that the difference between the money that Labour would raise from its policies and the amount it would spend would be a deficit of £38.5 billion over four years, the equivalent of £2,094 for every working household.

Some of the estimates in the document have been carried out by civil servants at the Treasury, using assumptions provided by politically appointed special advisers.

But Mr Bowler said the headline figure used by the Tories should not be attributed to impartial civil servants.

In a letter to Labour’s shadow Treasury chief secretary Darren Jones, he said the £38.5 billion total for Labour policies in the Tory document “includes costs beyond those provided by the Civil Service”.

A letter sent by parliament secretary James Bowler to Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
A letter sent by parliament secretary James Bowler to Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury (Labour Party/PA)

“I have reminded ministers and advisers that this should be the case.”

Mr Jones demanded an apology from Mr Sunak.

“Civil servants confirmed they had told Tory ministers they were not allowed to say their dodgy attacks on Labour were independently done by civil servants,” he said.

“Last night Rishi Sunak did it anyway. He lied to the British people. He must apologise.”

And shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said the Prime Minister’s election strategy “is to lie through his teeth”.

“Last night he lied about small boats, he lied about NHS waiting lists, he lied about the cost of living,” he said.

“Just like he lied to the British people about his knowledge of the Downing Street parties.

“This has now become about Sunak’s character and the clear evidence not just that he is hopeless at his job, but a desperate liar.”

The Office for Statistics Regulation confirmed it was looking into the use of the £2,000 figure.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho repeated the claim on Wednesday, saying it was based on “official costings from the Treasury” and suggested it had been “signed off” by Mr Bowler.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’ve worked in the Treasury and I can tell you that these are brilliant, independent civil servants and they would not be putting anything dodgy in there.”

On Times Radio, Ms Coutinho even claimed “this is something which has been signed off by the permanent secretary of the Treasury”, adding “those costings have been done by independent Treasury civil servants”.

Polls suggested neither Mr Sunak nor Sir Keir landed a knockout blow during the ITV clash on Tuesday night.

A snap poll from YouGov suggested the Prime Minister performed marginally better, with 51% making him the winner against 49% for Sir Keir among people who expressed a preference.

But a Savanta survey pointed to a more convincing victory for Sir Keir on 53%, ahead of Mr Sunak on 47%, excluding those who said they did not know.

Perhaps the most telling findings from the YouGov survey were that 62% found the ITV debate frustrating and just 17% found it a helpful exercise.

YouGov surveyed 1,657 British adults on Tuesday, and Savanta surveyed 1,153 people who watched the debate after it concluded.

Campaigning on Wednesday will be low key as commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day begin.

Both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir attended the UK’s national commemoration event in Portsmouth alongside members of the royal family and armed forces veterans, before attention is focused across the Channel for further anniversary events in Normandy on Thursday.

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