London Politics: Sunak grilled at PMQs over Zahawi’s Cabinet appointment and Raab bullying allegations
Rishi Sunak faced questions about his decision to put Nadhim Zahawi in his Cabinet and bullying allegations against Dominic Raab during PMQs on Wednesday.
During the session, Mr Sunak was repeatedly questioned on his knowledge of the investigation into Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs.
The Prime Minister, however, said the proper procedure had been followed and “that he appointed the independent adviser to investigate this matter fully” which resulted in Mr Zahawi’s removal as party chairman.
Keir Starmer also pressed the Prime Minister on the multiple bullying allegations surrounding Mr Raab. In response, Mr Sunak said: “When I was made aware of formal complaints I instructed a leading independent KC to conduct an investigation because I take action when these things happen.”
Mr Raab faces eight formal complaints over alleged bullying during his time in charge of three different Government departments - the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the EU (DEXEU).
Mr Raab has denied the allegations and said he has acted “professionally at all times”.
PMQs came amid one of the biggest strike days in the UK for decades. More than half a million workers have walked off the job over pay and conditions. You can follow more in our strikes blog, here.
Rishi Sunak to face Keir Starmer at PMQs
11:26 , Bill Mcloughlin
Welcome to the Evening Standard’s PMQs live blog.
The Prime Minister will face questions regarding the future of Dominic Raab who is under investigation following claims he bullied staff. The Deputy Prime Minister has denied the allegations and said he always acted professionally.
Rishi Sunak has already sacked Nadhim Zahawi as Conservative Party chair after a report found he did not declare an investigation into his tax affairs.
PMQs also falls on a day where teachers and train drivers have walked in the latest day of industrial action.
We have not ruled out taking the Government to court over new bill, warns union
11:38 , Bill Mcloughlin
The Trades Union Congress has not ruled out taking the Government to court in a bid to strike down the minimum service levels bill if it passes into law.
Speaking on a civil servants picket line outside HM Treasury, TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell told the PA news agency the legislation "unnecessary, unfair and almost certainly illegal".
She added: "We think it is notable that even Jacob Rees-Mogg, who would not normally describe himself as a friend of trade unions, was criticising this bill pretty heavily as being a pretty shoddy piece of legislation.
"We will take every measure we can to defend the right to strike and we are looking very carefully at how we will be able to, if this bill does go through, tackle it legally.
"That right to strike... is embedded into UK law... it is very clear that we do have those rights protected and we will be doing everything we can to defend them."
She was speaking as she visited the Treasury to hand in the TUC's budget submissions, which she said would give public sector workers a fully funded pay rise and provide a longer-term plan to grow the economy.
‘Time to come clean over Raab allegations,’ say Lib Dems
11:56 , Bill Mcloughlin
Ahead of PMQs, the Liberal Democrats have called on Rishi Sunak to publish theadvice he was given about Dominic Raab before appointing him.
Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem's deputy leader, said: "It's time for the prime minister to come out of hiding and face the music.
"The public deserves to know the truth about what he knew and when, including the full disclosure of any advice given to him by the Cabinet Office.
"Raab is just the latest of Sunak's appointees who has been caught up in scandal.
"If Rishi Sunak was serious about integrity, he would give the Tolley Inquiry the full cooperation it deserves, by providing his own formal evidence."
12:01 , Sarah Harvey
Rishi Sunak has now begun the session with the Prime Minister paying tribute to Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, whose wife passed away over the weekend.
Further questions concerning Nadhim Zahawi
12:07 , Bill Mcloughlin
Sir Keir Starmer starts the sessions with a question regarding Nadhim Zahawi.
Sir Keir asked: “So in the interest of integrity and accountability, can he set the record straight?
“Did his now former chair tell Government officials that he was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?"
The Prime Minister insists the proper process was followed and he appointed an independent adviser as soon as he was aware of the allegations about Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs.
Questions now move to allegations surrounding Dominic Raab
12:12 , Bill Mcloughlin
Following exchanges over Mr Zahawi, the Labour leader referred to 24 allegations of bullying by Dominic Raab.
Sir Keir said: “At the last count, the Deputy Prime Minister was facing 24 separate allegations of bullying. According to recent reports, some of the complainants were physically sick. One says they were left suicidal.
“How would he feel if one of his friends or relatives was being forced to work for a bully, simply because the man at the top was too weak to do anything about it?”
Mr Sunak said he “takes action when these things happen”.
‘We stand up for hard-working Britons,’ says PM
12:20 , Tom Davidson
Sir Keir then brings up the appointment of Richard Sharp to the BBC and asks if it was a coincidence, given his alleged role in helping Boris Johnson secure a loan of £600,000.
The Prime Minister said the appointment was fully supported by a committee which had Labour MPs on it.
Mr Sunak hits back by accusing Labour of siding with the unions and militant environmental groups while the Government “stands by working Britons”.
The Prime Minister then says that the unions and Just Stop Oil “bank role” the Opposition.
In response, Sir Keir said after 13 years of power the attempt to blame Labour for the strikes was “pathetic”.
PM asked on impact of Brexit on living standards by the SNP
12:25 , Bill Mcloughlin
The impact on people's living standards has "got nothing to do with Brexit", the Prime Minister said, as the SNP Westminster leader described the UK as a "Brexit ship" that "sinks".
Stephen Flynn said: "Let's be clear, taken together 2022 and 2023 are expected to be the worst years for living standards since the 1930s and the economy is expected to perform worse than sanction hit Russia.
"So whilst the Brexit ship sinks with the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition at the helm, does he blame those Scots who want to jump aboard the independence lifeboat?"
Rishi Sunak replied: "The number one factor that is impacting people's living standards, inflation caused by high energy prices as a result of a war in Ukraine.
"It's got nothing to do with Brexit and that's why the Government is taking significant action supporting every family with £900 this winter, but what I would say to him is rather than obsess about constitutional arrangements, focus on delivering for the people of Scotland, that's what we will do."
We must improve maternity care, says PM
12:27 , Bill Mcloughlin
David Johnston, Tory MP for Wantage, recounts a story of a couple who lost their baby just 23 minutes after she was born.
It was found that the NHS Trust in Nottinghamshire had systemic failures and was given a record-breaking fine.
Mr Sunak said he wants to make sure the NHS is the safest place in the country to give birth.
Green MP Caroline Lucas then asks about air quality and the need to reduce pollution levels.
Mr Sunak defends the Government’s position and says new legislation will help make changes to drive down pollution.
Rishi Sunak: We followed the proper procedure
12:31 , Bill Mcloughlin
Following a question from Labour MP Andrew Gwynne regarding Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, Mr Sunak said an independent adviser was appointed and the proper procedure was followed.
He is then asked if he will consider pro-growth reforms by John Penrose. He agrees to meet and discuss the plan.
What do you want to be remembered for?
12:35 , Bill Mcloughlin
Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy asks the Prime Minister about the current strikes.
“Does he intend to be rememebered as the PM who silenced and sacked key workers, teachers, and rail workers in a cost of living crisis?,’ she asks.
In response, Mr Sunak said teachers have been given a large pay rise and investment in their training and development.
He attacks Labour and says they should criticise the strikes and the damage they are having on the education of children.
Rishi Sunak: I will strive for peace
12:48 , Bill Mcloughlin
Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson said: “Since the election of the fascist Israeli government in December last year, there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, including children.”
After disquiet from across the Commons, Ms Johnson added: “Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as an apartheid state?”
Rishi Sunak replied: “She also failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well.
“It is important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that is very much what I will do as Prime Minister and in the conversations that I have had with the Israeli prime minister.”
The Prime Minister insisted he would “strive for peace” between Israel and Palestine, after a backbench Labour MP described the Israeli government as “fascist”.
Debate over Hillsborough disaster
12:59 , Bill Mcloughlin
Following the conclusion of PMQs, MPs debate the apology from the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing in regards to the Hillsborough disaster.
On behalf of all 43 police forces, police chiefs apologised for “profound failings” regarding the Hillsborough disaster.
The report into the disaster was concluded in 2017 by the Right Reverend James Jones.
Ian Byrne, Labour MP for West Derby in Liverpool asked when the Government will respond to the report’s findings.
Policing minister, Chris Philp said the Government is committed to engaging with the families before publishing its reponse. The response will be published this spring.
British Steel plans 800 redundancies
13:31 , Bill Mcloughlin
British Steel plans to axe hundreds of jobs at its Scunthorpe plant, according to reports which come as ministers consider a multimillion-pound rescue package for the struggling business.
Sky News reported that the business could approach unions on Wednesday about a plan which could see around 800 workers made redundant.
The redundancies would focus mainly on the plant in Lincolnshire. British Steel employs around 4,000 people across the UK.
The talks with unions could be delayed amid negotiations with Government, which is reportedly considering cash injections into both British Steel and Tata Steel UK.
British Steel declined to comment when asked about the potential cuts.
No 10: Reports over British steel redundancies ‘concerning'
13:40 , Josh Salisbury
Downing Street has described reports that British Steel could axe hundreds of jobs at its Scunthorpe plant as concerning.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: “Any reports of prospective job losses would be of concern. I can't necessarily comment on speculation but the Government always stands ready to provide or signpost assistance for anyone who needs it.
“In terms of long-term support for UK steel this is a Government that has taken a number of steps in this space."
Media reports suggest British Steel plans to axe hundreds of jobs at its Scunthorpe plant, although the company has declined to confirm the potential cuts.
The around 800 redundancies are said to focus mainly on the plant in Lincolnshire, and British Steel employs around 4,000 people across the UK.
Keir Starmer’s spokesperson condemns Labour MP over Israel ‘fascist’ comment
14:17 , Josh Salisbury
Sir Keir Starmer's spokesperson has condemned Labour MP Kim Johnson's description of the Israeli government as "fascist" at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The party's chief whip is understood to be speaking to her about her controversial language during PMQs.
She will be asked to withdraw her "unacceptable" remarks, Labour leader Sir Keir's spokesman told reporters.
The Liverpool Riverside MP said: "Since the election of the fascist Israeli government in December last year, there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, including children."
After disquiet from across the Commons, Ms Johnson added: "Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as an apartheid state?"
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak replied: "She also failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well.
"It is important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that is very much what I will do as Prime Minister and in the conversations that I have had with the Israeli prime minister."
Sir Keir's spokesman denounced the use of both the terms "apartheid" and "fascist", saying many will have taken offence at the latter in particular.
He told reporters: "As a first step we would obviously want her to withdraw the remarks that she used for sure".