Top Stories: Keir Starmer Questions Why Dominic Raab Is Still In Post, Unions Warn Of More Strikes
The Labour leader challenged the prime minister on his appointments of Zahawi and Raab (Alamy)
Keir Starmer challenged the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions on why the deputy prime minister still has a job despite allegations of bullying after Nadhim Zahawi was sacked over his tax affairs.
Sunak sacked party chairman Zahawi on Sunday over "a serious breach of the ministerial code" following an investigation into his tax affairs.
Questions remain over what the Prime Minister knew of Zahawi's tax affairs when he appointed him to the job last autumn.
Speaking at PMQs, Starmer accused Sunak of “hibernating” at the weekend to avoid answering questions about Zahawi, saying the chairman’s sacking “raised more questions than answers”.
“In the interest of integrity and accountability, can you set the record straight and tell government officials whether [Zahawi] was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?” Starmer asked.
Sunak responded by saying he appointed an independent ethics adviser to investigate the matter, a move which many criticised as coming too late after months of delay.
“[The adviser] has set out his findings in detail over the weekend,” Sunak said.
“On receipt of those findings, I took action and I've referred to the independent advisers report.
“The usual appointment process was followed with respect to the minister without portfolio. No issues were raised with me at the time of his appointment.”
Starmer also raised the string of allegations facing justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab about aggressive behaviour towards staff, who have accused him of creating a “culture of fear”.
Starmer said: “On my 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 [Sunak] 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?”
He added that the Tory party's “addiction to sleaze and scandal” has done “huge damage” to the UK.
Sunak said the Raab incidents were being investigated, and pointed out that the Labour Party is also involved in bullying claims by staff.
“If he is so concerned about what people are saying about behaviour in public life, recently one of his own MPs was forced to speak out because being in his party had reminded her of being in an abusive relationship,” Sunak said.
Further strikes on the cards as hundreds of thousands stage walk-out
The leader of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned that industrial action will continue throughout the year unless ministers find pay rises for workers.
Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, which has coordinate today's strikes by hundreds of thousands of union members across a number of sectors today, said the government had made a "political choice" to refuse pleas for a pay increases.
Speaking to Sky News, Nowak said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt needed to "make the money available to fund a decent pay rise" ahead of further negotiations.
He added: "Really the government needs to sit down. As I say, the prime minister and the chancellor need to come to the table, and find some new money."
Half a million workers, including teachers, train and bus drivers, university lecturers and civil servants, are taking part in mass industrial action today.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil servants, warned of further days of mass action unless the government offer pay rises. Serwotka claimed that 40,000 civil servants were the "very definition of the in-work poor" as a result of using food banks, while another 45,000 were claiming in-work benefits.
"But the government seems happy to give its own workforce far less even than everyone else has been offered and has rejected. And they're going on strike," he told Sky News.
"Next week we have paramedics and we have nurses. There will be the firefighters - we know they have now voted for strike action. So the amount of people taking or voting for action is going to grow.
"I don't believe the government will find it can get away with putting its head down while all this disruption takes place. And I think the they'll be forced to take a much more realistic attitude."
The Prime Minister's official spokesperson said the strikes would make it a "very difficult" day for the public and that ministers were "disappointed" with striking teachers.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the number of teachers who have gone on strike will be published later on Wednesday.
Jeremy Hunt faces pressure from Tory MPs to cut taxes
The Chancellor is under pressure from his own party to stimulate the economy with tax measures after a bleak forecast from the IMF showed the UK was the only developed country who is expected to see its economy contract in 2023.
Speaking at a meeting of the Tory 1922 Committee on Tuesday, senior backbencher Edward Leigh told Hunt: "We can't wait until the next general election, people are depressed, we've got to give them hope. Corporation, personal, fuel tax – you've got to give them something."
Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said he had concerns about the current economic strategy, saying the "highest tax burden in 70 years" was stifling growth.
Other Tory MPs told Sky News after the meeting that Hunt refused to commit to lowering fuel duty or other taxes in the upcoming budget unless he could get public finances in order.
Hunt has already hinted that he is not expected to lower tax rates in spring as the government battles to lower inflation.
Boris Johnson criticises Rishi Sunak's decision not to send UK jets to Ukraine
The former prime minister has said the UK should be sending fighter jets to Ukraine, just hours after Rishi Sunak joined US president Joe Biden in deciding against the move, arguing it was "not practical".
Speaking in Washington DC, Johnson urged ministers to "forget about Putin" and increase the amount of weapons being sent to Ukraine – including sophisticated fighter jets.
The UK had previously said training Ukrainians to operate the complex planes would take months, but insisted they were happy for other allies to send war planes to the country.
"Save time, save money, save lives. Give the Ukrainians what they need as fast as possible. Get this thing done. Forget about Putin," Johnson told Fox News.
"Every time we’ve said it would be a mistake to give such and such weaponry to Ukraine, we ended up doing it."
His comments have prompted concern among some Tory MPs that Johnson could undermine Sunak over Ukraine, with one Conservative backbencher telling the Telegraph he was creating "confusion as to who's leading foreign policy".
"It's not about serving the party, it's about serving Boris," they said.
"It's a real shame that this is a person who could be such an asset to the party if he wanted to be, and is now turning out to be a distraction."
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