Gove says Sunak was right to attack Labour U-turns after trans jibe criticism

Michael Gove has defended Rishi Sunak’s controversial transgender jibe, saying the Prime Minister was “absolutely right” to use it to attack Sir Keir Starmer’s U-turns.

Mr Sunak faced a backlash after he accused the Labour leader in the Commons of being incapable of “defining a woman” while Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey, was visiting Parliament.

Some Tory MPs conceded that the Prime Minister had made a mistake, with Commons leader Penny Mordaunt suggesting he should “reflect on” his remarks.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise for comments he made about transgender people during Prime Minister’s Questions (UK Parliament/Maria Unger/PA)

Asked whether he agreed with his Cabinet colleague Ms Mordaunt, Mr Gove told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “No.

“I think that the Prime Minister was more likely drawing attention to the fact that Keir Starmer has U-turned 60 times.

“I think that the Prime Minister was absolutely right to draw attention to that.”

Mr Sunak has refused to apologise despite Brianna’s father Peter Spooner demanding he say sorry for the “dehumanising” and “degrading” comment.

The Prime Minister was also criticised this week for accepting a £1,000 bet with broadcaster Piers Morgan on the success of the Government’s Rwanda asylum scheme before the election.

Senior Conservative Mr Gove refused to follow Mr Sunak’s example, saying: “I don’t have that sort of money.”

But he insisted “we absolutely will” get flights carrying asylum seekers off the ground to the east African country before the national vote.

Mr Sunak’s tax affairs are facing scrutiny after the publication of his tax summary showed he paid around £508,000 in UK tax last year while his total income rose to £2.2 million.

The super-wealthy Prime Minister’s effective tax rate of 23% was the same rate paid by a teacher on a salary of £41,600 per year, despite raking in millions more.

That is because most of his earnings were in the form of capital gains, which is taxed at a lower rate than income.

Housing Secretary Mr Gove was asked about the optics of Mr Sunak paying a headline rate that is less proportionately than a nurse pays.

He replied: “I think individuals’ tax affairs are matters for them and I think it’s invidious to look at individual cases.

“People will make a judgment about what’s called the political optics of something.

“From my point of view, the most important thing is, are we helping working people.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Cabinet minister Michael Gove gave Rishi Sunak his full backing as the leader to take the Tories into the election (Lucy North/PA)

The Prime Minister is under intense pressure as he has failed to close the opinion poll gap of more than 20 points with Labour, and has faced calls from some in his party to move aside or risk an electoral massacre.

He also faces a tough by-election challenge this week in Wellingborough and Kingswood, while official figures may spell gloom for his pledge to grow the economy.

Mr Gove, who has denied being in a Tory WhatsApp group called “Evil Plotters” and being part of a coup to oust the Tory leader, expressed full confidence in Mr Sunak.

Asked whether Mr Sunak was the right person to lead the Conservatives into the general election, the Surrey Heath MP said: “You bet. Absolutely. 100%.

“The Prime Minister is one of the most gifted leaders in the Western world.”