New UK Leader Rishi Sunak Faces a Bruising First Prime Minister’s Questions

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LONDON — A day after taking the reins in Downing Street, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came under attack in Parliament for naming an immigration hard-liner to his cabinet, only a week after she was fired from her post for security breaches.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, suggested that Mr. Sunak reappointed Suella Braverman as home secretary as a quid pro quo for her support in his leadership contest to fend off a challenge from a former prime minister, Boris Johnson. Mr. Starmer said that had violated Mr. Sunak’s promise of a more ethical, accountable government after the scandals that brought down Mr. Johnson.

“He’s so weak he’s done a grubby deal, threatening national security, because he was scared to lose another leadership election,” Mr. Starmer said, adding that it showed that the governing Conservatives put “party first, country second.”

Mr. Sunak said Ms. Braverman recognized that she had made an “error of judgment,” but that he was delighted to bring her back to the cabinet, declaring that she would crack down on crime and defend Britain’s borders. The Labour Party, he added, was “soft on crime” and favored “unlimited immigration.”

It was a bruising debut for Mr. Sunak in the weekly political cage-match known as prime minister’s questions, and it gave a glimpse of how the opposition plans to frame its case against the Conservative Party and its new leader, the third in seven weeks. Mr. Starmer described a governing party out of control, out of ideas and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

After congratulating Mr. Sunak on being the first person of color to become prime minister, Mr. Starmer quickly got personal. He pressed him to eliminate non-domiciled tax status, which his wealthy wife, Akshata Murty, used to save potentially millions of pounds in British taxes on her global income. After an outcry earlier this year, Ms. Murty, the daughter of an Indian technology billionaire, agreed to pay those taxes in future.

“I don’t need to explain to the prime minister how non-dom status works — he already knows all about that,” Mr. Starmer said.

Mr. Sunak’s wealth is likely to be a recurring source of attack lines for Labour, with Mr. Starmer and others asserting he cannot relate to Britons facing a cost-of-living crisis. While immigration is less central than the economy, it, too, could re-emerge as an issue because it exposes fissures within the Conservative Party.

While Ms. Braverman was ostensibly dismissed by Mr. Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, for improperly sending a government document on her personal email, she and Ms. Truss also clashed fiercely over immigration policy. Ms. Braverman favored a tough approach that would cut the number of arrivals while Ms. Truss was open to a more moderate approach because it could drive faster economic growth.

Mr. Sunak has scrambled to settle the government since taking over from Ms. Truss. On Wednesday, his chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said he would delay the publication of a detailed fiscal statement from Oct. 31 to Nov. 17 to gather better projections of economic growth and public finances.

But Mr. Starmer offered a tangy taste of what Mr. Sunak will face.

“He’s not on the side of working people,” the Labour leader concluded. “That’s why the only time he ran in a competitive election he got trounced by the former prime minister who herself got beaten by a lettuce,” he said, referring to a tongue-in-cheek contest held by the Daily Star tabloid, which asked whether Ms. Truss would survive in office longer than the shelf life of a head of lettuce.


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