Sunak, Starmer Issue Warnings on Economy in UK Election

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer traded stark warnings about each other’s handling of the UK economy as the prime minister sought to turn around his Conservative Party’s fortunes ahead of next week’s general election.

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Sunak said Starmer’s tax plans may have the same impact as predecessor Liz Truss, who roiled the financial markets with a package of unfunded tax cuts during her 7-week tenure. Starmer, for his part, said Labour would never inflict the same economic chaos on Britain as the former Conservative leader did, reminding voters of the impact her measures had on the cost-of-living crisis.

The exchange came after the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the UK public is “voting in a knowledge vacuum” after both parties “ducked” hard choices on how to pay for their spending promises without raising taxes.

UK Voters in ‘Knowledge Vacuum’ on Tax and Spend, IFS Warns

With just 10 days to go until Britons head to the polling booths, Sunak’s Tories trail Labour by more than 20 points in national polls — a gap that’s little-changed from when the prime minister called the vote on May 22. That’s left Starmer apparently on course to replace Sunak in Downing Street next week — something which Sunak appeared to concede when he likened his warnings now to those he made in his losing leadership bid against Truss.

“I’m telling you again now, it all seems a bit familiar — if Keir Starmer is your prime minister, the economy is going to suffer, and all of you are going to suffer,” Sunak said in a Sun interview streamed live on Monday. “I was right then when I warned about Liz Truss,” he said, adding “that’s why all of you can trust me now when I also warn about the damage that Keir Starmer would do.”

Sunak has sought to build the Conservative campaign around warnings that Labour is planning unannounced tax rises totaling more than £2,000 ($2,500) per person over four years — a charge denied by the opposition. He reiterated the message that Labour would raise taxes on Monday.

Starmer, for his part, has promised Labour won’t raise income tax, national insurance, value-added tax on goods and corporation tax, and Sunak’s previous warnings of tax-rises under Labour haven’t shifted the polls.

Speaking in his own Sun interview after Sunak, Starmer brought up Truss when asked if he planned to raise taxes, pointing to the damage her measures had done in forcing up mortgage rates.

“I’m never going to let a Labour government do that, which is why everything is fully funded and fully costed,” Starmer said. He described the election as a “clear choice,” given public services had deteriorated over 14 years of Tory governance. “We’ve had 14 years of chaos, division and failure, and it’s not going to change,” Starmer said.

(Updates to add IFS analysis, in third paragraph.)

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