Rishi Sunak was confronted by voters on immigration, Covid vaccines and trans policy as he came face to face with Britons at the GB News People’s Forum in County Durham.
In scenes which at times became tense as angry audience members demanded answers, the Prime Minister fielded questions on topics on the issues that mattered most to the people of Britain.
And in a boost to the Prime Minister, a straw poll of the audience conducted just minutes after the event ended found that some 50 per cent of those who listened to the Conservative leader now intend to vote for his party at the next election.
A further 36 per cent said they are still undecided, while 14 per cent said they will vote for another party. The audience was made up of undecided voters or those who said they could be convinced to switch at the ballot box.
Asked about the migrant crisis, Sunak told the audience it is a “national priority”, outlining the Government’s plan for next steps in tackling the problem at the GB News People Forum this evening in County Durham.
Linda from Teesdale asked the Prime Minister why he is “so adamant” about Rwanda “when public documentation shows it isn’t working”. She added: “What are your next steps?”
Rishi Sunak was confronted by furious Britons this evening at the GB News People’s Forum in County Durham
Responding, the Prime Minister said illegal migration is “profoundly unfair”, saying: “We need a deterrent” and “that is what Rwanda is about”.
The PM told the audience that “Britain is based on a sense of fairness”, adding: “We play by the rules, and illegal migration erodes the sense of trust in our system”.
He continued: “I think stopping the boats has got to be a national priority, and it’s one of my priorities.”
When asked by presenter Stephen Dixon how he will get the Safety of Rwanda Bill through Parliament, Sunak said: “In one sense it’s less a question for me and more a question for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. We are committed to getting it through Parliament. But, unfortunately, we don’t have a majority in the House of Lords.
“And everyone else right now as we speak is lining up to do deals in the House of Lords to block us. We’ve already seen that in the Commons. They will keep doing that in the Lords. But I will keep going. I am absolutely committed.
“I fought very hard for this legislation. It’s the toughest legislation anyone has seen. It’ll make sure that we can implement and operationalise this scheme, get flights off, get that deterrent working and that’s what I’m going to do.
“And the question really is, why is everyone else lining up to try and stop me? Because I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s what the country wants.”
Sunak took questions from the audience in County Durham this evening
Speaking about his overall plan to tackle the problem, Sunak said: “In order to fully solve this problem we need a deterrent, we need to say pretty simply and unequivocally that if you come to Britain illegally you won’t be able to stay, either to your home country if it’s safe or for everyone else an alternative like Rwanda.
“That’s what it’s all about it. That’s why I’m absolutely committed to getting it right. The country wants me to solve this problem and I want to deliver it.”
Sunak also faced an intense grilling from one audience member over harms caused by the Covid vaccine.
The voter used his opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister to angrily raise qualms held about the jab, demanding Sunak “look him in the eye”.
He said: “My name is John Watt and I’m one of the Covid vaccine injured in this country.
“I want you to look into my eyes. I want you to look at the pain, the trauma and the regret I have in my eyes.
“We have been left with no help at all. I know people who have lost legs, I know people with heart conditions like myself, Rishi Sunak.”
Rishi Sunak takes questions from the audience in County Durham
GB News host Stephen Dixon was forced to intervene, saying he raised some “very valid points”, but urged him to allow the PM to give a response.
Sunak said: “Obviously, everyone individually will work through their cases. It’s difficult for me to comment on anyone’s individual case.
“I’m sure you’ll appreciate that. I’m very happy to go and look at the cases and I’m sure you’ll get them to the team here.”
Robin White, a barrister from Somerset asked the Prime Minister: “Why should LGBT people vote Conservative?”
Responding, the Prime Minister said: “Ifyoulookatourrecordoverthepastfewyears,there’sonethatIhopeyouandeveryoneelseisproudof.
“It was a Conservative government under one of my predecessors who made sure we have same-sex marriage.”
“More recently we’ve made sure that all our public services work better, that we’ve made changes in the NHS for provision of healthcare services for same-sex couples.
The Prime Minister said illegal migration is “profoundly unfair”, saying: “We need a deterrent” and “that is what Rwanda is about”
“That gives hopefully you and everyone else a sense that this is a country whose values are reflected in our party and in government.”
When pressed by Dixon on his approach to trans issues, Sunak said: “My view on that issue is relatively straightforward. First of all, for people who are going through that, particularly children, we have to be really sensitive about it. We should be understanding, we should be tolerant and compassionate because that’s who we are as a people; respecting everyone and their differences.
“But I also think on that issue, particularly when it comes to questions about women’s safety, women’s health, that biological sex is important. And I don’t think that should be a controversial thing to say.
“I think that is a relatively common-sense view that is held by the vast majority of people. Unfortunately, this debate over the past few years has become incredibly charged and polarised, but I really don’t think anything I just said, quite frankly, should be controversial.”
Josh, a 19 year-old student, asked: “The UK is estimated to be short of a million homes, but your party have scrapped the house building target and scrapped Gove’s proposed planning reforms, do you have a plan to fix the supply crisis in British housing?”
Sunak responded: “I want to build a country where aspiration is celebrated, and aspiration is about owning your own home. It’s important you and your generation can do that. I DO NOT have an overnight fix. It varies by region, but what can we do?
“We need to build more homes, and that’s what we’re doing. In this parliament, we said we’re going to deliver 1 million homes and we’re on track to do that. The plan is working. We’ve cut stamp duty for first time buyers, 80 per cent of first time buyers don’t pay it.
“Most recently, there are old EU legacy rules, and they’re blocking 100,000 homes from being delivered. We were going to pass a law to change that, and what do the Labour Party do in the lords? They blocked it.
“When I talk about Starmer not having principles, there was an opportunity to change this defective EU law, and what do they do? They blocked it.
“We will be making more announcements this week on this. Keir Starmer had the opportunity to do the right thing for your generation and he said no.”
Daniel, an assistant head of an independent school in Teesside, accused Labour of “ideological grandstanding” through their policy of charging VAT on indepdendent schools.
Responding, Sunak took a swipe at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over comments about his background.
He said: “You know, I get attacked by Keir Starmer because of where I went to school. I said to him once, ‘you’re not really attacking me, you’re attacking my parents’.
“And you’re attacking everybody like them that works hard to aspire for a better life for them and their family. I think that’s wrong, I don’t think it’s British and that’s not the type of country that I am going to build.”
GB News host Stephen Dixon was forced to intervene when Sunak was challenged by a furious voter over vaccine harms
Another audience member, David from Darlington asked the Prime Minister: “Since the 2019 general election, when the Conservative Party won an 80-seat majority, do you believe that the Conservative Party has delivered anything of substance in value since then?”
Responding, the PM said: “I was in Darlington earlier today, working out of the campus that I set up there when I was Chancellor, which is a great example actually of levelling-up, and you’re asking what have we delivered over the past few years? You don’t have to look much further than Teesside actually to see what we’re delivering for people.
“That is an area that had been neglected by the Labour Party for decades. If you look at what’s happened over the last few years, we’ve got a great Conservative Mayor in Ben Houchen doing a fantastic job. We’ve taken advantage of Brexit to create a brand new free port.”
The audience members and their questions were all selected by polling company Survation, meaning even GB News was unaware of what was in store for the Prime Minister. Survation selected an audience made up of undecided and swing voters.
The audience members and their questions have been selected by polling company Survation, so even GB News doesn’t know what’s coming
Speaking ahead of the event, People’s Forum presenter Stephen Dixon added: “This is exactly what GB News was created for – bringing those in power before the people of this great nation.”
With the Conservative Party sitting more than 20 points behind Labour in most polling, the event was a key opportunity for Sunak to persuade voters that the Tories’ time in office is not yet over.
Reacting to the Q&A after the event, pollster Matt Goodwin said: “I’ve got to say, I was there in the room up here in Darlington and look I’ll be honest with you, the Prime Minister sounded a little flat.
“He got one laugh out of the audience, got two rounds of claps but that came quite late on. He struck me more as a Chancellor than as a Prime Minister.
“There wasn’t much in the way of charisma, there wasn’t a compleling story, a big vision to go the country with.
“I think probably his team will be leaving thinking he did a competent job but it wasn’t a particularly compelling job.”