Keir Starmer demands a ‘full audit’ of UK-China ties in brutal PMQs clashes – as Rishi Sunak slams him for ‘principle-free’ politics and being in hock to union paymasters
Keir Starmer demanded a ‘full audit’ of UK-China ties in brutal clashes with Rishi Sunak today as PMQs returned after the summer.
The Labour leader accused the premier of leaving the country vulnerable, as well as overseeing dismal services and failing to tackle the Channel migrant crisis.
But Mr Sunak lashed back at the scattergun attack, slamming Sir Keir for ‘principle-free’ politics focused on placating his union ‘paymasters’.
‘The British people cannot trust a word he says,’ Mr Sunak said.
Sir Keir said the news that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested on suspicion of spying for China was a ‘serious security concern’.
Keir Starmer demanded a ‘full audit’ of UK-China ties in brutal clashes with Rishi Sunak today as PMQs returned after the summer
But Mr Sunak lashed back at the scattergun attack, slamming Sir Keir for ‘principle-free’ politics focused on placating his union ‘paymasters’
He pointed out some MPs face sanctions, intimidation and threats from the Chinese state.
He said: ‘When I asked the Prime Minister on Monday whether the Foreign Secretary raised the specific issue of the alleged spy arrested in March when he visited China a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister would only say that he raised that ‘type of activity’ but avoided specifics.
‘So, I ask the Prime Minister again, did the Foreign Secretary raise this specific case when he visited China, yes or no?’
Mr Sunak replied: ‘I refer (Sir Keir) to my previous answer where I said very clearly that the Foreign Secretary raised these issues with the Chinese foreign minister who he met, as did I when I had my meeting with premier Li (Qiang) over the weekend.’
Sir Keir swiped that Mr Sunak had still not given a clear answer, adding: ‘What he says now is totally at odds with Parliament’s intelligence and security committee report of July this year. That set out that the Government has no clear strategy when it comes to China.
‘This has been raised time and time again. But, yet again, the Prime Minister fails to heed the warnings and he’s now desperately playing catch up. So, will he finally commit to the full audit of UK-China relations which so many in this House have so long demanded?’
Mr Sunak said: ‘As always, the Leader of the Opposition is just playing catch up and hasn’t caught up with the reality of what’s actually happening.’
He said the report relates to a period of investigations in 2019 and 2020, saying since then the UK has launched a new integrated review refresh of the China strategy and has put in place ‘a range of new measures, including… the National Security Protective Agency’.
He said Sir Keir supported former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ‘a person who wanted to abolish the army, scrap Trident, and withdraw from Nato’.
On China, he said the Government has the ‘most robust policy that has existed every in our country’s foreign policy’, saying it is to protect the country and align the approach with close allies, and to engage ‘where it makes sense’ and to raise ‘our very significant concerns’ – an approach he said was welcomed by allies.
Sir Keir branded the PM ‘inaction man’ over his record in Government, telling the Commons: ‘Probation, prison, schools, China, yet again inaction man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.
‘On Sunday, the Home Secretary celebrated her first anniversary in post. That is if you overlook the six days she missed when she was deemed a national security risk.
‘In that year, 40,000 people have crossed the Channel on a small boat, and the taxpayer is now spending £6million a day on hotel bills. He is failing to stop terrorists strolling out of prison, failing to guard Britain against hostile actors, he is completely failing to stop the boats. How can anyone trust him to protect the country?’
Mr Sunak responded by accusing Labour of flip-flopping on plans to ditch EU-era pollution rules to get more housing built.
‘He talks about trust, he tried in this House to talk the talk on housebuilding, but at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He has caved in,’ he said.
‘Rather than make the right long-term decisions for the country he has taken the easy way out. It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers.
‘Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can’t trust a word he says.’
Sir Keir kicked off the exchanges by asking why the terror suspect who escaped from prison, Daniel Khalife, was not held in a Category A prison.
‘I pay tribute to the police who tracked down the escaped terror suspect from Wandsworth prison last week,’ he said.
‘Despite being charged with terrorism, and despite being a flight risk, he was not held in a Category A prison. Why not?’
Mr Sunak replied: ‘I’d like to thank the police and their partners for their efforts to find and arrest Daniel Khalife. There is now an ongoing legal process that must be allowed to take its course.
Sir Keir said the news that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested on suspicion of spying for China was a ‘serious security concern’ (file picture)
‘I’d like to reassure the public that while these cases are extremely rare, the Justice Secretary has launched an internal investigation about how this could happen as well as an independent investigation of the incident so that we can learn the lessons from this case and make sure that it never happens again.’
Mr Sunak said that as a former CPS head Sir Keir should ‘know better’.
‘Because of the wide variety and considerable difference in severity of people charged under that Act, it is not and has never been the policy that they are all held in Category A prisons,’ he said.
He added: ‘I am happy to tell him that over the last few years we have delivered an extra 4,000 new prison officers, staffing levels at Wandsworth in particular are up by 25 per cent in the past six years and because we are boosting prison pay, we are also improving retention, and at the same time investing £100million to improve prison security with new measures like X-ray body scanners.
‘But if he wanted to have a truly honest debate about this, perhaps he’d acknowledge that prison escapes under the Labour government were almost 10 times higher than under the Conservatives.’
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