Thursday, July 25, 2024

Britain’s new Prime Minister Keir Starmer faces his first House of Commons grilling from lawmakers


Newly elected British leader Keir Starmer faced a House of Commons milestone on Wednesday, fielding lawmakers’ queries at the boisterous weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session.

It was the first such session since Starmer’s Labour Party won a landslide election victory on July 4, returning to power after 14 years. The center-left party won 412 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.


Starmer is more accustomed to asking the questions after spending four years as leader of the opposition to a Conservative government. Former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now fills that role as leader of the defeated Conservative Party.

Starmer was greeted with a loud cheer by Labour lawmakers packed onto the green benches in the Commons. The often rambunctious spectacle of PMQs struck an unusually cordial note, as Sunak and Starmer stressed their mutual commitment to supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

Britain’s Prime Minister Keir Starmer leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers Questions session in parliament in London, Wednesday, July 24, 2024.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The prime minister told the opposition leader he “wholeheartedly agree” on the need to arm Ukraine and set it on the path to NATO membership — words not often heard between them.

The two politicians also sent best wishes to British athletes at the Paris Olympics, although, Sunak added, “I’m probably not the first person they want to hear advice from on how to win.”

Labour won a landslide election victory over the Conservatives on July 4 on a promise to get the U.K.’s sluggish economy growing, unleash a wave of housebuilding and green energy projects and patch the country’s frayed public services.

Labour’s large majority means Starmer should easily be able to pass legislation. But he has already had to quell a rebellion, suspending seven Labour lawmakers for voting against the party over social welfare.

The government is under pressure from anti-poverty groups and many Labour lawmakers to scrap a policy introduced by the Conservatives that limits a widely paid welfare benefit and tax credit to a family’s first two children. The new government says it can’t afford to immediately abolish the two-child cap.

On Tuesday night, seven Labour lawmakers on the left of the party sided with an opposition call to scrap the limit. The party said the seven, who include former deputy leader John McDonnell, had been suspended from Labour’s parliamentary caucus for at least six months. They will remain lawmakers, but will sit as independents.


Zarah Sultana, one of the suspended legislators, said she had “slept well knowing that I took a stand against child poverty that is affecting 4.3 million people in this country.”

“It is the right thing to do and I am glad I did it,” she told broadcaster ITV.

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