Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of laughing at an Iceland worker struggling to pay his mortgage, as the pair clashed over cost-of-living concerns at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Labour leader Sir Keir said the Conservatives have “forfeited the right to be lecturing others about the economy” before warning that somebody moving off a fixed-rate mortgage will be paying an average of £240 more each month.
Sir Keir said this was a reminder that “working people are paying the price” for the “damage” done to the economy by the Government, and he went on to highlight the case of Iceland employee Phil, who lives in Warrington.
As Conservative MPs heckled the Labour leader, he told the Commons: “Laughing at an employee at Iceland who is struggling with his mortgage – shame.
“He told me that his mortgage is going up by a staggering £1,000 a month, Prime Minister. He doesn’t want other averages, other people, other stories, that’s what’s happening to him.”
Sir Keir had earlier mocked Tory MP George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), who said he quit as a minister because he was struggling to pay his mortgage.
The Labour leader said: “If the Member for Mid Norfolk on £120,000 can’t afford this Tory Government, how on earth can people like Phil?”
Mr Sunak replied: “Thanks to the management of the economy, Phil and millions of people like him are now ensuring that inflation is less than half of the rate it was when we were talking a year ago, putting more money in their pocket.
“And thanks to this Government, Phil and millions of workers – not just at Iceland but across the country – are benefitting this month in their pay packets from a tax cut worth hundreds of pounds for someone on an average salary.”
The Prime Minister asked if Sir Keir had explained to Phil the “cost of his policies”, including a £28 billion green spending “spree”.
He added: “Did he explain to Phil that he’d be better off sticking with our plan rather than going back to square one with him?”
Sir Keir countered: “I’d invite the Prime Minister to get in touch with Phil and explain to him how paying £1,000 more on his mortgage is making him better off because that’s not how he feels.
“He’s just so out of touch it’s unbelievable. Finding hundreds of pounds extra a month – that may not seem like a big deal to the Prime Minister, but let me tell him most people don’t have that sort of money knocking around.”
Sir Keir criticised moves to allow council tax to increase by up to 5%, adding: “He says everything is fine, people are better off, but when people see their mortgages going up, their council tax going up, food prices still going up, who does he expect them to believe, his boasts or their bank accounts?”
Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir of resorting to the “politics of envy” before saying he was “genuinely surprised” to see shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves say Labour would not reinstate a cap on bonuses for bankers.
He said: “I don’t know if he mentioned that to Phil when he was having a chat with him.
“I can tell him that trust and economic credibility come from sticking to a plan, but it’s becoming clear that you cannot trust a word that he says.
“And again when the shadow chancellor says or claims that they won’t borrow much, they won’t raise Phil’s taxes, we now know that those promises simply again aren’t worth the Wikipedia page they were copied from.”
Sir Keir said: “I actually didn’t expect him to be laughing at Phil.”
Sir Lindsay Hoyle repeatedly had to intervene in the session to calm MPs, despite the Commons Speaker earlier urging them to exercise “self-restraint”.
Sir Keir went on: “The Prime Minister just doesn’t get how hard it is for millions of people across the country like Phil. That is the primary problem.”
The Labour leader said Mr Sunak had failed to show “any level of basic understanding”, adding: “(Mr Freeman) says he’s exhausted, he’s looking forward to new opportunities outside of Parliament.
“Why doesn’t the Prime Minister do him a favour, call an election so he and the whole country can move on?”
Mr Sunak replied: “Whether it’s Phil, whether it’s everyone else across the country, the plan that we’re putting in place is working to help people and we’re making progress.”
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