Sunak failing to protect UK from China and ‘presiding over prison mayhem’, says Starmer

Rishi Sunak has allowed China to “breach the walls” of the UK’s national security and has presided over “mayhem” in prisons, according to Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader went on the attack over security and criminal justice during a feisty exchange at PMQs – dubbing the PM “inaction man” who failed to heed serious warnings.

It comes as Mr Sunak faces questions about his China policy following the shock arrest of a parliamentary researcher on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

And it follows the alleged escape of ex-soldier Daniel Abed Khalife from HMP Wandsworth by strapping himself to a food truck, amid concerns about staffing levels at the prison.

Sir Keir said: “He is failing to stop terrorists strolling out of prison, failing to guard Britain against hostile actors, completely failing on small boats … how can anyone trust him to protect the country?”

Asking why the terror suspect was not held in a Category A prison, Sir Keir said the Tories were “presiding over mayhem in the criminal justice system”.

The Labour leader said the Chief Inspector of Prisons had warned conditions in Wandsworth were so bad it should be shut down. “Probation, school buildings, now prisons. Why does the prime minister keep ignoring the warnings until it’s too late?”

Mr Sunak it had “never been the policy” that all terror suspects are held in Category A prisons, and boasted that his government have delivered an extra 4,000 new prison officers.

“If he wanted to have a truly honest debate about this, perhaps he’d acknowledge that prison escapes under the Labour government were almost 10 times higher than under the Conservatives,” the PM fired back at the opposition leader.

Grilled by Sir Keir on China, Mr Sunak would not say whether foreign secretary James Cleverly raised the specific case of a parliamentary researcher alleged to have spied for Beijing.

The PM said the government has the “most robust policy that has existed every in our country’s foreign policy”. He said his approach was designed to protect the country and align the approach with close allies, and to engage “where it makes sense” and to raise “our very significant concerns”.

Mr Starmer accused the PM of failing to “heed the warning” and “desperately playing catch up” after the Intelligence and Security (ISC)’s scathing report on the government’s failure to tackle China’s interference in the UK.

“Yet again, inaction man fails to heed the warnings then blames everyone else for the consequences,” Sir Keir told the Commons.”

He added: “The floor fell in for millions of families because of their economic mayhem, the classroom ceilings collapsed because he cut vital school budgets. And now the walls of our national security have been breached because they’ve ignored repeated warnings.”

The PM has become personally embroiled in the row about the dangerous Raac material after he rejected an application for 200 schools a year to be repaired.

Mr Sunak hit back, claiming Sir Keir cannot be trusted due to his “principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership”. The PM accused the Labour leader of leading plans to block housing reforms in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

It comes as Labour prepares to block “reckless and irresponsible” to relax river pollution rules to boost housebuilding. The Lords is set to vote on Wednesday evening on scrapping EU-era rules that force housebuilders to mitigate the impact on river health.

“It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers. Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can’t trust a word he says.”

Calling for a general election, Sir Keir went on: “No-one voted for this shambles. No-one voted for him. So how much more damage do the British public have to put up with before he finally finds the stomach to give them a say?”

Keir Starmer’s party will try to defeat Tories on pollution and housebuilding rules

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