General Election 2024 LIVE: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash over migration and betting scandal in final TV debate

Prime minister Rishi Sunak faced off against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (AP)
Prime minister Rishi Sunak faced off against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (AP)

The Prime Minister and Labour leader faced off in their final live televised debate on Wednesday evening, ahead of polling day in just over a week’s time.

Rishi Sunak clashed with Sir Keir Starmer on the betting scandal, immigration and the NHS during the BBC’s fiery debate which began at 8.15pm in Nottingham.

Mr Sunak desperately needed a gamechanger to give the Tory stuttering election campaign some momentum.

A record seven out of ten Britons do not like the Conservative Party, according to a bombshell poll which put the keys to No10 within Sir Keir Starmer’s reach.

Meanwhile Labour suspended a party member after they were arrested in North London on Wednesday, it is understood.

Follow the latest updates from the general election campaign below.

Key points

Coverage ends


Here ends our live coverage of this evening’s election debate.

You can read a full round-up of the fiery head-to-head between Sunak and Starmer, by the Standard’s chief political correspondent Rachael Burford, here.

Snap poll suggests no winner in tonight's debate

21:50 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

There was no winner in the BBC prime ministerial debate, according to a YouGov snap poll.

In a survey of 1,716 viewers, 47 per cent said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer won, 47 per cent said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did, and 6 per cent answered they did not know.

Metropolitan Police to investigate cases linked to Westminster gambling row

21:49 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

We’ve just had news that the Met police will lead on investigating a “small number of cases” related to the Westminster gambling row to “assess whether the alleged offending goes beyond Gambling Act offences to include others, such as misconduct in public office”.

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “The Met is not taking over the investigation into bets on the timing of the General Election.

“The Gambling Commission will continue to lead the investigation into cases where the alleged offending is limited to breaches of the Gambling Act only.

“Met detectives will lead on investigating a small number of cases to assess whether the alleged offending goes beyond Gambling Act offences to include others, such as misconduct in public office.

“We will provide further information tomorrow.”

'Are you two really the best we’ve got?' leaders asked by audience member

21:42 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Keir Starmer said he was not surprised by a question from an audience member who asked “are you two really the best we’ve got to be the next prime minister of our great country?”

The Labour leader said: “I’m not surprised after 14 years of this that people feel this way because the country is in such a state.

“They’ve had loads of promises made in the last election about what will happen which haven’t been delivered on, that does beat the hope out of people.

“The very first question was about integrity in politics, and again people haven’t seen that integrity – they’ve had partygate, they’ve had breach of Covid rules, you’ve had the contracts for Covid – the instinct of some people to think the first thing in Covid i’m going to do is try to make money.

“So, this is an opportunity to restore that hope. I don’t think we can do that by making sort of grand promises of things that can’t be delivered.”

Rather, he said, it’s “the ordinary hope of getting on yourself, getting on for your family, getting on for your community, your country. It has to be rooted, if we’re going to restore hope in my view, in returning politics to service, the sense that you come into politics to serve”.

'Vote for change - vote Labour,' Starmer urges in closing address

21:37 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Sir Keir Starmer is now making his closing address.

“My message to you is simple,” he said. “If you want your NHS back, you have to vote for it.

If you want a growing economy, you have to vote for it.

“If you want more police on our streets, more teachers in our schools, you have to vote for it.

“If you want to end 14 years of chaos and rebuild our country, then that power is in your hands.

“On July 4, vote change - vote Labour.”

'I understand why you're frustrated with me' Sunak tells audience

21:35 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The leaders are now giving 30-second addresses summing up their messages to voters.

First up is Rishi Sunak, who said: “I understand why you’re frustrated with our party - with me. I get it. But this is not a by-election. It’s a choice with profound consequences for you and for our country.

“And before you make that choice, think what a Labour government would mean.

“Can you afford to pay at least £2,000 more in tax?

“And why won’t Keir Starmer be straight with you about what he wants to do?

“And if you are not certain about Labour, do not surrender to them. Don’t vote for any other party, vote Conservative.”

Both leaders commit to protecting women-only spaces

21:29 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have committed to protecting women’s rights to single-sex spaces, regardless of whether someone has a gender recognition certificate.

Questioned on this, the Prime Minister said: “Yes, unequivocally yes. And we will do that by changing the law, so that the old Equalities Act recognises that sex means biological sex.”

The Labour leader said “yes” because it is “very important” to protect women-only spaces.

He added: “What I will also say is that I do recognise that there are a small number of people who are born into a gender that they don’t identify with, and I will treat them, as I treat all human beings, with dignity and respect.”

Sir Keir received applause and whoops from the audience, before continuing: “I’ll tell you for why, because if you don’t, we end up with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom standing in Parliament making an anti-trans joke in front of the mother of a murdered trans teenager.”

Mr Sunak replied: “That’s not what I did, I was pointing out that you’ve changed your mind on this question multiple times.”

UK would become 'soft touch of Europe' if Labour elected - Sunak

21:18 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

“Do not surrender our borders to Keir Starmer and the Labour Party,” said Sunak. “The situation will just get worse. We will become the soft touch of Europe...they are queuing up in Calais waiting up for a Keir Starmer to be in charge.”

Starmer retorted: “They’re not queuing up, they’re on the boats.”

Sunak blasts Starmer's migrant plan as 'nonsensical'


Rishi Sunak asked if Keir Starmer was planning to make a deal with the Taliban to send back asylum seekers rejected from the UK.

He blasted Starmer’s plan as “nonsensical”.

The migrants are coming from Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, Sunak said.

“Will you sit down with the Ayatollahs? Are you going to try to do a deal with the Taliban? It’s completely nonsensical – you are taking people for fools,” he said.

Starmer says he would 'process' migrants as he is probed on asylum seeker plan

21:13 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Starmer has faltered as he was repeatedly asked what he would do with migrants, if he was elected.

Mr Sunak said: “I can tell people what I will do with them. I will put them on planes to Rwanda because they shouldn’t be able to stay.

“What will you do with illegal migrants that come to our country? It’s a simple question. What will you do with them?”

“They need to be processed,” Starmer responded, after being asked multiple times and attempting to avoid the question.

He is referring here to the thousands of unprocessed migrants that are being housed in hotels and other accommodation in the UK.

“Processed?” Sunak laughed, asking the Labour leader: “But what will you do with them?”

Mishal Husain pointed out processing migrants would mean “most” would then be given the legal right to remain in the UK.

Starmer responded: “At the moment, 100 per cent of them are effectively being given asylum in this country...because they aren’t being processed.”

Starmer blasts Tories' Rwanda plan

21:07 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Starmer is now laying into the Tories’ Rwanda plan, saying it would not act as sufficient deterrent to migrants.

“For a few hundred that would go on a flight to Rwanda at huge expense to the taxpayer, there are tens of thousands...50,000 people have come [across the Channel] since Rishi Sunak has been prime minister.

“A few hundred going every year means there’s 99 per cent chance you’re not going to Rwanda.”

Last year has seen record numbers of migrants arrive by small boat - Mishal Husain

21:03 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Starmer described Sunak’s claims as “complete and utter nonsense”.

Meanwhile debate chair Mishal Husain interjected to correct Sunak’s claim migrant figures are falling.

“Small boat arrivals did come down last year, but arrivals so far this year are at a record high - it’s more than 13,000 people.”

She asked Sunak if the Tories have “lost control”.

“No,” he responded.

Sunak says immigration 'deterrent' needed, flights to Rwanda will go ahead if he remains PM

20:58 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Rishi Sunak responded by saying: “It’s completely unfair what’s happening.

“We have made progress. The numbers have come down in the past 12 months compared with the 12 months before.”

Here, Starmer interjected by muttering “they’re record numbers”.

“But in order to fully solve this problem you need a deterrent,” Sunak continued.

“And that’s why if I’m your prime minister on July 5 the flights will go to Rwanda, we will build that deterrent...and that’s how we solve this problem.”

Starmer says Tories have 'lost control of our borders' but Labour would crack down on people smugglers

20:56 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Starmer again said Labour would tackle the small boats crisis by cracking down on people smugglers.

“The government has effectively lost control of our borders,” he said.

“I think nobody but nobody should be making that journey across the Channel. And we have to smash the gangs that are running this vile trade...making a fortune putting people into boats to cross the Channel.”

He pointed to his history as Chief Prosecutor, saying: “We had to deal with plots...terror plots, gun plots...we grouped together with law enforcement across Europe and we took down those terrorist gangs. I’ve seen it done. I’ve been part of the operations to do it.”

Debate moves to immigration and border control


A man named Steve Curtis has now stood to pose a question on the hot topic of border control, asking the leaders: “We’re an island. Why can’t we easily close our borders?”

Leaders set out how they would tackle lowering welfare bill

20:48 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Asked if the welfare bill would be higher under Labour, Starmer said: “No, it needs to come down.”

He said this will be possible by “getting people back into work with a clear plan” and by “tackling the waiting lists so people can get back into work” by helping put more NHS appointments in place each year to help people languishing on waiting lists get back into work.

Sunak responded by saying he does not believes the issue of people being out of work is down to people on NHS waiting lists.

He said the issue must be tackled by “being stricter about the eligibility criteria, making sure everyone who can work does work”.

“We will cut the welfare bill,” he said.

Starmer says Sunak 'out of touch' as he says he would help support disabled people returning to work

20:41 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Sir Keir Starmer has responded by saying “there’s nothing wrong” with Mr Sunak’s proposal that it’s wrong for people to turn down work they are able to do.

“When I announced it, you literally opposed it,” said Mr Sunak, sounding outraged.

“If you listened to people in the audience, across the country, more often you might not be quite so out of touch,” responded Starmer.

Addressing Beverley’s point, the Labour leader said: “Many people with illness or disability do want to get back into work...but it’s difficult to do so.

“What a number of firms are doing...and I support this...if have a supported scheme where people can be supported back into work for a number of months. I think that’s a really good scheme - that’s what we would put into place.”

Leaders probed on how they'd stop disabled people being 'punished by benefit sanctions'


A lady named Beverley has stood to ask a question. She says she is disabled and hasn’t been able to return to work because she hasn’t had sufficient help.

She asked: “How will candidates ensure we aren’t punished by benefit sanctions?”

Rishi Sunak has already said he would tighten the benefits system and make it stricter.

“What we’re going to do is make sure we reform the sick note process, which isn’t working,” he said. “It’s signing far too many people off as not fit for work.

“We’re going to provide active support for people into work. If people have been offered jobs that they can do and they don’t take them, that’s not OK. So after 12 months what I’ve said is, we will do something about that.

“We will tighten that up. Because fundamentally I think those people that can work should work.”

Shouts can be heard from protest outside

20:30 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Faint shouts have been heard in the auditorium since the debate began.

Mishal Husain has just addressed the audience, explaining: “If you can hear any noises...there is a protest taking place outside, which is also an aspect of our democracy, and people exercising their freedom of speech.”

Photos earlier showed protesters outside the Nottingham venue with banners reading ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘condemn genocide’. It is not immediately clear if this is the same protest that can be heard from inside the debate.

Starmer makes jibe about betting


“I think the prime minister wants to put a bet on how many times he’s going to interrupt me,” Starmer quipped as Sunak interrupted him to challenge him on, alluding to the ongoing gambling scandal.

Starmer: Politics has become too much about self-entitlement, but I plan to reset it


Starmer responded by saying:“I think over the last 14 years, politics has become too much about self-entitlement and MPs thinking about what they can get to themselves.

“The thing I would like to do if I’m elected prime minister is to reset politics, so that politics returns to public service.”

He suggested the gambling scandal is party of the same issues that led to the ‘Partygate’ Covid rule-breaking scandal, and said it is “a question of leadership”.

He said that when a member of his party was suspected of being involved int he scandal, they were “suspended within minutes” from the Labour Party.

First question centres on betting scandal

20:20 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The first question centres on the growing Westminster betting scandal.

“People are dismayed by the lack of integrity and honesty in politics today,” said the questioner, named Sue Barclay. She went on to mention the political betting scandal, asking: “How would you restore trust in politics?

Sunak gave a succinct answer, saying he was “furious” when he learned of what happened, and that the Conservative Party immediately suspended two candidates after an internal investigation.

He added that anyone found to have committed a crime “should face the full consequenes of the law”.

Positions on stage decided 'on toss of coin'

20:17 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Opening the debate, chair Mishal Husain says the position in which Starmer and Sunak are standing was decided by flipping a coin.

The debate begins

20:16 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

And we’re off! The 75-minute debate is beginning now.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives

19:43 , Miriam Burrell

It’s around 30 minutes until the final TV debate between Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak kicks off.

Both party leaders have now arrived in Nottingham.


Keir Starmer arrives in Nottingham ahead of debate

19:34 , Miriam Burrell

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer shakes hands with BBC Director-General Tim Davie as he arrives for the Prime Ministerial Debate in Nottingham.


Labour suspends member after arrest in honeytrap scandal


Earlier today it emerged a Labour member was suspended from the party after being arrested in north London.

It comes after the Met Police said a man was arrested in connection with the Westminster “honeytrap” scandal where MPs received explicit images and flirtatious messages from anonymous WhatsApp accounts.

Labour was on Wednesday notified of an arrest of a party member in Islington and administratively suspended the person from membership of the party, it is understood.

The party said it cannot comment further due to a police investigation.

Read more about the scandal here.

The scam saw messages sent to figures in political circles to try to persuade them to send explicit images (PA Archive)
The scam saw messages sent to figures in political circles to try to persuade them to send explicit images (PA Archive)

Election betting scandal likely to feature heavily in debate


The deepening Westminster betting row over bets placed on the date of the General Election is likely to feature heavily as Mr Sunak and Sir Keir go head-to-head in tonight’s BBC debate.

At least five Conservatives are being investigated by the Gambling Commission as part of its inquiry into wagers on the timing of the July 4 poll.

And Cabinet minister Alister Jack has admitted placing bets on the election date, although he is not being investigated by the regulator because he staked the money earlier in the year, before the period covered by the watchdog’s probe into the alleged use of inside information.

Labour has also been drawn into the row, suspending candidate Kevin Craig after he was investigated by the regulator for betting on himself to lose his contest in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

Sir Keir said his reaction to Mr Craig showed assertive leadership “in a sharp contrast to Rishi Sunak, who took days and days and days before he took action”.

He told broadcasters: “You can see from the reaction of the public that they know straight away that what’s been going on in the Tory party, this sort of insider dealing, is wrong.”

Sunak stayed off campaign trail today in run-up to TV appearance

18:24 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey both held election events today, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stayed off the campaign trail ahead of his appearance in this evening’s leaders’ TV debate.

The Labour leader visited a surgery in the constituency of Leicestershire North West: a seat where the Conservatives are defending a notional majority of 18,548.The size of the swing needed for Labour to win this seat is enormous at 18.4 percentage points, large enough to rank it at number 234 on a list of the party’s targets.

Sir Ed Davey campaigned today in two of his party’s target seats: Chelmsford and Henley & Thame.

The Conservatives are defending notional majorities in these constituencies of 15,416 and 11,901 respectively.

The Lib Dems need a swing of 14.4 percentage points in Chelmsford and 11.1 percentage points in Henley & Thame, ranking them at numbers 56 and 33 on a list of the party’s targets.

Who is chairing the debate?

18:09 , Miriam Burrell

The debate will be chaired by BBC’s Mishal Husain, who has vowed to “halt” Mr Sunak and Mr Starmer if she needs to do so.

She has moderated two seven-way leaders’ debates before, in 2017 and earlier this month.

She won praise for the way she oversaw the most recent one involving Reform UK’s Nigel Farage, Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt, Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn of the Scottish National Party, Carla Denyer of the Green Party and Rhun ap Iorwerth of Plaid Cymru.

Read more on how she will chair the debate here.

 (BBC/AFP via Getty Images)
(BBC/AFP via Getty Images)

What is expected from tonight's debate?

18:01 , Miriam Burrell

Key issues in the two-way debate could include the election betting storm, tax, immigration, leadership, schools, social care, as well as Britain’s ties with the European Union and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Tonight’s debate will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from 8.15pm-9.30pm. You can also listen on BBC Radio 4 from 8.15pm.

From 9.30pm-10pm, Laura Kuenssberg and Clive Myrie, the hosts of the BBC’s election night coverage, will present reaction and analysis live from the debate venue.