Keir Starmer trolled ‘wobbly’ Rishi Sunak today for caving into Tory rebels over housebuilding targets and onshore wind farms.
The Labour leader launched a series of jibes as the pair did battle at the weekly PMQs sessions.
Branding Mr Sunak a ‘blancmange’, Sir Keir said he had ‘sold out the aspirations of those who want to own their own home’ by bowing to MPs’ objections to building more homes.
But the premier slapped back that Sir Keir was engaging in ‘petty personality politics’, saying he had ‘flip-flopped’ on housing policy.
There also was some relief for Mr Sunak tonight when he escaped a fresh Tory revolt over calls for the Government to guarantee Britons are able to use free cashpoints.
More than 20 Conservatives had signed an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that would have obliged the Government to create a ‘minimum level’ of access to machines that do not charge.
But, when the amendment was voted on tonight, only a handful of Tory MPs voted in favour of it.
The Conservative benches appeared to have been soothed by assurances from Andrew Griffith, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, that he had ‘made very clear’ the ‘consequences’ if regulators and industry do not ‘solve this issue for us’.
He had warned of the possible ‘unintended consequences’ of the Government accepting the amendment, when explaining why ministers were opposing it.
Backers of the amendment, tabled by Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh, had included former Cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel and David Mundell, and John Hayes.
Sir Iain told MailOnline that he did not expect to inflict a defeat on the PM, but MPs needed to start a ‘debate’ on the issue of access to free cashpoints.
Sir Keir Starmer trolled ‘wobbly’ Rishi Sunak today for caving into Tory rebels over housebuilding targets and onshore wind farms
More than 20 Conservatives had signed an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that would oblige the government to create a ‘minimum level’ of access to machines that do not charge
Earlier, during PMQs, Sir Keir mocked Mr Sunak for believing that Tory MPs would be ‘cheering him on’.
‘As always, the blancmange Prime Minister wobbled. He did a grubby deal with a handful of his MPs and sold out the aspirations of those who want to own their own home. Was it worth it?’ he said.
Mr Sunak replied: ‘As ever, engaging in the petty personality politics, not focused on the substance.
‘Again, let me explain what we’re doing. We’re delivering what I said we would do: we are protecting the character of local communities, we are cracking down on land banking and irresponsible developers. And we are giving people a greater say in their decisions.
‘Just this week, on Monday, the honourable gentleman said the Government should be giving people more power and control. Now he seems to be opposing that policy. It’s only Wednesday, I know he flip-flops but, even for him, it’s pretty quick.’
There have been mounting concerns that older and vulnerable people are being forced into paying fees for withdrawing money.
Challenged at PMQs to accept Ms McDonagh’s amendment, Mr Sunak said: ‘This Government is indeed legislating to safeguard access to cash and that’s what the Financial Services and Markets Bill this afternoon will do through a very significant intervention.
‘I’m also pleased that we put in place initiatives with the industry to subsidise free-to-use ATMs in deprived areas and almost 50 communities are benefiting from our new shared cash facilities because access to cash is important. That’s what our new Bill will deliver.’
Treasury minister Mr Griffith had suggested the Government was determined to leave the problem to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
In a letter to MPs on Monday night he acknowledged ‘the considerable interest of colleagues in the matter of free access to cash in relation to the Government’s legislation’.
However, he stressed the role of the FCA and insisted ‘access to cash remains extensive in the UK’.
Last night, Mr Sunak climbed down in the face of a threatened insurrection over the ban on onshore wind farms.
Earlier this week he reached a deal with rebels on housebuilding targets, as part of the Government’s flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
To appease around 30 backbench Tory MPs over wind turbines, the Government announced a ‘technical consultation’ will be launched on proposed changes to national planning rules on onshore wind farms.
Following talks with rebel MPs, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it would explore how onshore wind farms can be built with local support.
DLUHC also said it would explore how local communities that wish to build onshore wind farms could benefit from them, such as through lower energy bills.
‘Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and appropriately address any impacts identified by the local community,’ it said in a statement.
‘Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.’