Sunak criticises ‘unprincipled’ Starmer over Elphicke defection

Rishi Sunak hit out at “unprincipled” Sir Keir Starmer over the defection of MP Natalie Elphicke.

The former Tory MP switched to Labour but Sir Keir has faced a backlash over her previous actions, including criticism of her anti-strike stance and allegations she lobbied a minister to interfere in her then-husband’s sex offences trial.

The Prime Minister said the defection “shows less about her and it’s more about Keir Starmer”.

“It just tells you that you can’t trust what the guy says. If you are trying to be everything to everyone, fundamentally you don’t stand for anything.”

Keir Starmer visit to Dover
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with Natalie Elphicke, during a visit to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But Mr Sunak told reporters following a speech in London: “As Natalie Elphicke herself said, in the not-too-distant past, Labour are an ‘open borders, pro-immigration party that doesn’t want to stop the boats’. Her words, not mine.”

Meanwhile, unease within Labour and the unions over Ms Elphicke’s defection continued.

Sir Keir Starmer with Labour's metro mayors on Monday
Sir Keir Starmer with Labour’s metro mayors on Monday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Matt Wrack, who is also the general secretary of Fire Brigades Union, denounced comments she made in March blaming firefighters for the deaths of three people during a past national strike.

“This is a disgraceful attack on firefighters, who protect the public and save lives every day, sometimes at great personal cost,” he wrote in a letter to the Labour leader.

“The Labour Party is the political wing of the Labour movement. It exists to fight for the interests of working people in Parliament.

“Attacking trade union members in this way to justify support for draconian anti-worker laws ought to be incompatible with membership of the parliamentary Labour Party.”

Meanwhile, a Labour MP said there should be an independent investigation into allegations that Ms Elphicke in 2020 asked then-justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland to intervene in her then-husband Charlie Elphicke’s case.

Labour has said Ms Elphicke “totally rejects that characterisation of the meeting”.

Sir Keir Starmer said on Monday: “Natalie Elphicke has disputed and denies the allegations.

He added: “If the Tories put as much time and energy into running the country properly as they do into attacking Natalie Elphicke we wouldn’t be in the mess that we’re in.”

Sir Robert Buckland
Tory former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I don’t know how one would prove if two people are saying two different things, it’s not my wheelhouse, it’s not my pay grade, there are questions to be answered, there are apologies to be made and there is work to do and I maintain that position.”

Health minister Maria Caulfield also said there should be an investigation into Sir Robert’s claims, but added it was up to the Labour Party to carry one out.

Senior Labour figures have been forced to defend their new colleague.

Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds questioned why Conservatives calling for a probe did not do so when Ms Elphicke was said to have approached Sir Robert.

Ms Dodds told the BBC’s Westminster Hour: “Natalie Elphicke has said … that these allegations are not true.

“And I think if the Conservative Party now says that it wishes to launch an investigation, the big question is for the Conservatives, because they maintain that this took place four years ago, there was no investigation, nothing done about it when she was a Conservative MP.

“I think many people will be scratching their heads and saying ‘if this is the serious matter that they state it is, why did they not act on this four years ago?’”

Shadow education minister Catherine McKinnell told Sky News on Monday she was “baffled” as to why Sir Robert had “sat on” the allegations and said his reasons for doing so should be “looked into”.

Charlie Elphicke court case
Natalie Elphicke defended her husband after the allegations emerged and accompanied him to Southwark Crown Court throughout the trial (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“But if he had done, there should have been an inquiry.”

Ms Elphicke’s former husband, her predecessor as Dover MP, was convicted of sexually assaulting two women and jailed for two years in 2020.

She ended the marriage after his conviction but supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying Mr Elphicke had been “attractive, and attracted to women” and “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

Ms Elphicke was forced to apologise for the comments backing her ex-husband following criticism from her new party colleagues.

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