Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has emphatically denied that his party’s attack advert – accusing Rishi Sunak of not wanting child sex abusers to go to prison – was racist. Sky News’s Sophy Ridge made him squirm when she asked whether the attack ad had encouraged far-right groups who “have weaponised” sexual abuse committed by Asian grooming gangs.
Sir Keir delivered an emphatic ‘no’ when asked whether the ad was racist, adding “of course it’s not”.
The response came over accusations the social media advert had racist undertones.
Sophy Ridge pointed out that “far-right groups have weaponised the sexual abuse committed by Asian grooming gangs – a very small minority of Asians. Now your attack ad accuses the first ever British Asian Prime Minister of not thinking chance executions to go to prison.”
Sir Keir pointed to the analysis he did as Director of Public Prosecutions, saying “The vast majority of child sexual offences are not by people of Asian origin or anything else”.
Labour’s Emily Thornberry has previously acknowledged criticism that the attack ad was racist, however, saying it is a “legitimate question” to ask.
“I heard a lot of people criticising it, and a lot of people who I like and respect criticising it and saying they felt very uncomfortable about it. Some people said that they thought it was racist.”
Sky’s Sophy Ridge renewed pressure on Keir Starmer over other criticism of the advert, pressing the Labour leader on whether he truly believes Rishi Sunak does not want to lock up child sex abusers.
“You don’t think he thinks paedophiles should go to prison? Is that what you’re seriously saying?”
Sir Keir said: “I think that as Prime Minister, you take responsibility for what happens in your criminal justice system”.
“He has not taken responsibility for it. And this idea that somehow you couldn’t ship in a new prime minister, we’ve had five of them now in the last 13 years, and that somehow he doesn’t bear responsibility.”
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Sophy Ridge turned the criticism around, however, asking if that’s the case of Tory Prime Ministers and whether Sir Keir takes personal responsibility for every child abuser who escaped prison while he was Director of Public Prosecutions.
He said: “I take full responsibility for every decision of the Crown Prosecution Service when I was Director of Public Prosecutions”.
Ms Ridge asked whether that means he doesn’t think paedophiles should go to jail, if some escaped the sentence while he was in charge.
“You’re accepting then that things went wrong under your watch? I’m not going to get into all that work, because I don’t want to engage in it if I’m being completely honest.
“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t think that rapists should go to jail, does it? It means that you just take responsibility for it. That’s what you’re saying in this ad?”
She also pointed out that the advert says “under the Conservatives, 4500 adults convicted of sexually assaulting children under 16 serve no prison time”.
“Now that’s figures from the last 13 years of Conservative government, I mean Sunak wasn’t even an MP for five of those, let alone having any responsibility for the justice system.
Sir Keir said the Tories couldn’t keep changing party leaders to avoid taking responsibility for the failures of their predecessors.
“We’ve had 13 years in which we had five prime ministers, the idea that you can just slot in a new prime minister and suddenly the slate is wiped clear, they have no responsibility… he is taking that political party into the next General Election.”