Rishi Sunak denied accusations of a “sleazy backroom deal” to reappoint Suella Braverman as home secretary less than a week after she resigned from the role over a breach of the ministerial code.
The new Prime Minister was criticised for a “return to the ghosts of government’s past” by the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford on his first appearance at the dispatch box and was branded “weak” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the decision.
Sunak also faced criticism over his commitment to “levelling up” and his wife’s status as a non-dom tax payer.
However, he rejected further calls for a general election, citing the Tories still had a “mandate to govern”.
Braverman’s departure from former PM Liz Truss’ government effectively signalled the end of her short reign in No 10.
She was replaced by Grant Schapps for six days before returning during Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle – Sunak’s first day as PM.
Sir Keir told Sunak he was “so weak he’s done a grubby deal trading national security because he was scared to lose leadership election,” in reference to Braverman’s appointment.
Blackford piled further pressure on the PM, citing his speech on the Downing Street steps in which he promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.
Calls have been made for an inquiry into the appointment.
Sunak replied: “The home secretary made an error of judgment but she recognised that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.
“That is why I was delighted to welcome her back into a united cabinet that brings experience and stability to the heart of government.”
When pushed further by Sir Keir, he took aim at Labour’s relationship with the “lunatic protesting fringe”, criticising Labour’s “soft on crime” approach.
“He talked about fighting crime,” Sunak said.
“I would hope that he would welcome the news today that there are over 15,000 new police officers on our streets and the home secretary will be supporting them to tackle burglaries, while the party opposite will be backing the lunatic protesting fringe that are stopping working people going about their lives.”
Sunak also denied accusations he “was not on the side of working people” in questions over the UK’s economic turmoil.
During the Tory leadership campaign in the summer, the former chancellor was recorded telling a garden party he “personally moved money away from deprived areas to wealthy places”.
He faced further scrutiny over the tax affairs of his wife, Akshata Murty, and calls to abolish non-domicile individual status.
Murty later agreed to pay UK taxes on her worldwide income. The couple has an estimated wealth of around £730m, making Sunak the richest PM in history.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced plans to upgrade his fiscal announcements at the end of this month to a “full Autumn Statement” after pushing it back by two-and-a-half weeks to November 17.
Sunak warned he would have to make “very difficult decisions” as the UK heads into winter amid the cost of living crisis, but repeated his plans for “compassionate conservatism”.
However, that was criticised by Sir Keir, who challenged Sunak to “put his money where his mouth is” and end non-dom status for good.
“The Government currently allows very rich people to live here but register abroad for tax purposes,” he said.
“I don’t need to explain to the Prime Minister how non-dom status works, he already knows all about that. It costs the Treasury £3.2bn every year. Why doesn’t he put his… money where his mouth is and get rid of it?
“The Tories have crashed the economy and now somebody has to pay for their mess. I say it shouldn’t be working people who’ve been hammered time and again by this lot, but those with broadest shoulders must step up, does he agree?”
Sunak replied: “I have been honest, we will have to take difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence, and my honourable friend the chancellor will set that out in an autumn statement in just a few weeks.
“But what I can say, as we did during Covid, we will always protect the most vulnerable. We will do this in a fair way.
“I am glad that the party opposite, the honourable gentleman, has finally realised that spending does need to be paid for, it is a novel concept for the party opposite.”
He added: “This Government is going to restore economic stability and we will do it in a fair and compassionate way.”