Sunak attacks Starmer’s Corbyn record

PM says that unlike Starmer he would not ‘bully’ Israel over a Palestinian state in interview with the JC


Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks to journalists during a general election campaign event in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 24, 2024. (Photo by Phil Noble / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PHIL NOBLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Prime Minister has pledged that a returned Tory government would pass new laws to crack down on extreme anti-Zionist protests and would not “bully” Israel by threatening to recognise a Palestinian state.

Speaking on Tuesday in an exclusive JC interview, Rishi Sunak also claimed that Sir Keir Starmer had failed to eradicate antisemitism from the Labour Party, citing February’s Rochdale by-election when the party was forced to drop its candidate after he was recorded making antisemitic remarks.

He also condemned the Labour leader for serving in the shadow cabinet led by Jeremy Corbyn, and for stating he would make a “great prime minister”.

The interview took place in the wake of a new opinion poll suggesting Labour is in the lead among Jewish voters for the first time since Corbyn became leader in 2015.

“To their credit, other members of Keir Starmer’s team took the principled position not to serve under Corbyn,” Sunak told the JC. However, “Starmer did… And that’s the same Jeremy Corbyn who led an institutionally antisemitic party, only the second political party to be investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.”

It took Labour two days to suspend the Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after it emerged that he had claimed Israel “allowed” the Hamas attack on October 7 to get a “green light to do whatever they bloody want”.

“That’s Starmer’s track record on these things, and people will have to come to a view as to whether they are comfortable with that approach,” he said.

Echoing concerns raised by focus groups of Jewish voters convened by the JC (see p4-5), Sunak said that while Starmer had spoken out in support of Israel after the October 7 terrorist massacre, senior Labour figures such as deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy had said they would “actively work with partners to recognise a Palestinian state”.

Sunak told the JC: “‘We will recognise Palestine’ is what she said. We would never use such an approach to bully Israel when it faces such grave threats to its security. But that that is what you’re getting from two of the most senior members of the Labour team.

“Every time I’ve been in Parliament defending or supporting Israel’s right to self-defence, you can see the criticism I get from that from the Labour benches. Starmer can say what he wants at the front, but then you stick around for the next hour and hear what the rest of his party is saying. That is the Labour Party.”

He said he wanted to remind Jewish voters that in power, he had granted new powers for police to control demonstrations in the 2023 Public Order Act, commissioned the recent report on political violence and disruption by Lord Walney and overseen Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove’s new definition of extremism, which would see designated organisations denied public funding and all contact with government officials.

All these measures, Sunak said, Labour had opposed. His government, he went on, had increased funding for the Community Security Trust and guaranteed it for the next four years.

If re-elected, he would “introduce new powers to ban face coverings at protests, and place a duty on the police and prosecutors to publish regular guidance on specific statements, chants and symbols that would constitute an offence, which will be met with police action.

“If you want tougher action on protests, policing and extremist groups, it’s only the Conservatives who’ve got a track record of doing it,” Sunak said, “or will continue to do more to ensure that everyone feels safe on our streets”.

Sunak declined to “speculate” on what his response would be if the International Criminal Court were to issue arrest warrant to arrest Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. However, he went on, he continued to support Israel’s right to self-defence and to demand the release of Israeli hostages.

He also suggested Jews would be unwise to vote Reform, despite its leader Nigel Farage making recent statements backing Israel.

Some of its candidates, Sunak said, had expressed opinions that he found “utterly shocking. I was horrified to think that any party would stand candidates holding those appalling views”. Those included one who had claimed Britain should not have fought the Nazis in World War Two, and another who called Hitler “brilliant”, claimed Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine was “legitimate” and described Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as “gentle by nature”.

Sunak concluded by saying that “people can judge me on my actions. I’ve been a strong friend of the Jewish community and I think it’s appalling what its members have experienced over the past year.

“I’ve taken a very strong stance of support and friendship, providing everything I can to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community, and continuing to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

If he wins the election, Sunak said, “that will continue”.

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