Rishi Sunak rebukes Tory vice-chair for backing death penalty

<span>Photograph: PjrNews/Alamy</span>
Photograph: PjrNews/Alamy

Rishi Sunak has rebuked Lee Anderson just 48 hours into his career as Conservative party vice-chair after saying he supported the death penalty because “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed”.

The Nottinghamshire MP, whose elevation to the job on Tuesday thrilled some fellow “red wall” MPs but caused worries among others about potential damage to the party, also called for a naval “standoff” in the Channel over small boats and accused a radio reporter of being dishonest.

His support for the death penalty came in an interview with the Spectator, conducted just before he became party vice-chair. Asked whether he backed the idea, Anderson said: “Yes. Nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed. You know that, don’t you? 100% success rate.”

Noting that opponents held up the prospect of miscarriages of justice, he said people shown murdering someone on camera should be executed the “same week”, adding: “I don’t want to pay for these people.”

Anderson’s views were swiftly disowned by Sunak, who was asked about them during a visit to Cornwall. “That’s not my view, that’s not the government’s view,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Spectator interview, Anderson defended his much-reported earlier comments that most people who used food banks did so because they could not budget and shop properly. Anderson said he could make these arguments as he had been “a single parent for 17 years, with two boys”.

He told the magazine: “I struggled. I know what it’s like to put your last fiver in the gas meter. I know what it’s like to have to sell your car because you can’t afford to run it – so I’ll take no lectures from anybody about being hard up and struggling for survival.”

Discussing the arrival of people who come across the Channel in small boats, Anderson said: “[They] are seeing a country where the streets are paved with gold – where, once you land, they are not in that manky little fucking scruffy tent, they are going to be in a four-star hotel.”

Asked what he would do, Anderson said: “I’d send them straight back the same day. I’d put them on a Royal Navy frigate or whatever and sail it to Calais, have a standoff. And they’d just stop coming.”

In a separate interview with his local BBC radio station in Nottingham, Anderson became angry when asked about an incident in which, while campaigning before the 2019 election, he seemingly pretended a friend was a supportive voter while being trailed by a camera crew.

Asked whether he was dishonest, Anderson refused to respond, instead asking the presenter 10 times whether she had ever told an untruth. When she conceded that was the case, he told her: “So you’re dishonest.”

A recording of the entire interview showed Anderson demanding it be broadcast in full on the station or not at all, citing worries about how it might be edited.

Many of Anderson’s views will chime with those of Tory members, who also tend to back the death penalty. The deputy chair said he was a popular draw at party events and was now booked up to Christmas.

But some Tories will worry that such trenchant views, widely reported, will put off voters the party needs to attract, for example in seats where it faces a challenge from the Liberal Democrats.

The education minister Claire Coutinho told LBC Radio on Thursday she was a “big fan” of Anderson, while disagreeing over areas such as the death penalty.

“What I think people respond to when it comes to Lee is he does speak his mind. And I think it’s really important that we have people who have lots of different opinions,” she said.