Sunak and Starmer clash in final election debate

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer went head-to-head over tax, immigration, gender and Brexit in their final debate before next Thursday’s general election.

The Tory leader repeatedly accused Sir Keir of planning tax rises and having no plan to deal with illegal immigration, in the 75 minute BBC event.

Sir Keir told him off for making constant interruptions and attempted to rebut the attacks by accusing Mr Sunak of making unfunded tax promises and of being “out of touch” with voters.

The pair had no knowledge of the questions they faced from members of the public at Nottingham Trent University, with one audience member asking: “Are you two really the best we have got?”.

The Labour leader began on the front foot, accusing his opponent of being “bullied” into responding to the unfolding revelations about Tory candidates allegedly betting on the timing of the general election.

Mr Sunak replied: "It was important to me that given the seriousness and the sensitivity of the matters at hand that they were dealt with properly, and that's what I've done."

With the opinion polls pointing to a Labour victory next week, the debate may have been Mr Sunak’s final chance to turn things round before polling day and he came out fighting.

He sought to hammer his Labour opponent over tax, just as he did in their first clash at the start of the campaign.

He highlighted a report in the Daily Telegraph that Labour’s Darren Jones said decarbonising the economy would cost hundreds of billions of pounds.

Sir Keir said it was “absolutely right that we want to get investors to come in alongside” the government money it was committed to spending.

Mr Sunak also told the audience that under a future Labour government, “the state pension will be subject to a retirement tax”. The claim has been examined in depth by BBC Verify.

Sir Keir was more combative in his responses than in the first debate, accusing Mr Sunak of “repeating a lie” after the PM asked the audience: "Can you afford to pay at least £2,000 more in tax?”

The two leaders also faced a question about Brexit, with a small business owner asking what they would do to improve trade with the EU.

Mr Sunak said the only way to get another trade deal with the EU would be to allow "free movement by the back doors".

Sir Keir said: "We are not going back into the EU, we're not rejoining the single market or customs union, and we're not accepting freedom of movement.”

To applause, he added: "I know we can get a better deal than the botched deal that we've got and I'm going to go out and fight for it."

At other times, Mr Sunak dominated the debate, firing questions at his Labour opponent over his stance on illegal immigration and stopping small boat crossings.

Sir Keir attacked Mr Sunak’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda, but was drowned out by the PM repeatedly asking: “What would you do with them?”

He then asked if Sir Keir was planning to make a deal with the Taliban to send back asylum seekers rejected from the UK.

Both party leaders committed to protecting women's rights to single-sex spaces, regardless of whether someone has a gender recognition certificate.

But Sir Keir received applause as he added he recognised there are "a small number of people who are born into a gender that they don't identify with", adding: "I will treat them, as I treat all human beings, with dignity and respect."

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Sir Keir referred constantly to his past career as the chief prosecutor in England and Wales and his “working class” background and sought to attack Mr Sunak for being detached from real world concerns.

The Labour leader received applause from the studio audience as he accused his Tory rival of being "out of touch" when it comes to welfare benefits.

Outlining his plans for getting people back into work, Sir Keir told Mr Sunak: "If you listen to the people in the audience, across the country, more often, you might not be quite so out of touch."