Rishi Sunak slams Keir Starmer as 'unprincipled' for accepting Tory Rightwinger Natalie Elphicke into Labour

Rishi Sunak has slammed Sir Keir Starmer as “utterly unprincipled” for welcoming Tory Rightwinger Natalie Elphicke into the Labour ranks.

Asked about the defection after a speech in central London, the Prime Minister said: “More than anything, I think it shows less about her and it’s more about Keir Starmer.

“And it shows him to be completely and utterly unprincipled.

“This is someone who went from embracing Jeremy Corbyn to embracing Natalie Elphicke.”

Defections are rare and a blow to be party being abandoned, and Ms Elphicke’s crossing of the floor comes after former Tory health minister Dan Poulter also switched to Labour.

But the decision by Sir Keir and his inner circle to welcome Mr Elphicke’s defection has angered a number of Labour MPs given her past views on immigration, Labour and sexual harassment.

Earlier, both Labour and the Tories called for a probe into claims that Ms Elphicke lobbied Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland to interfere in her then-husband’s sex offences trial.

Sir Keir has faced a backlash from some of his MPs over welcoming Rightwinger Ms Elphicke to the party’s ranks, while still continuing to deny the whip to veteran MP Diane Abbott.

But the spotlight has also shifted onto the Tories as the row surrounding Ms Elphicke has grown at Westminster.

Sir Robert has said Dover MP Ms Elphicke, who has now crossed the floor to Labour, approached him in 2020 when he was Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary before the hearing of Charlie Elphicke’s case.

She allegedly told Sir Robert that it was unfair the case was the first to be heard at Southwark Crown Court after the Covid lockdown and that it was being overseen by Lady Justice Whipple, The Sunday Times reported.

One person present viewed her comments as a bid to have the case moved to a lower-profile court to spare her partner public scrutiny, while another saw it as an attempt to replace the senior judge, according to the newspaper.

Sir Robert reportedly rejected her plea, suggesting his intervention could undermine the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciary.

The Tory MP told The Sunday Times: “She was told in no uncertain terms that it would have been completely inappropriate to speak to the judge about the trial at all.”

Ms Elphicke’s former husband and predecessor as MP for Dover was later convicted of sexually assaulting two women and jailed for two years.

She ended the marriage after his conviction but supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying Mr Elphicke had been “attractive, and attracted to women” and “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

Ms Elphicke allegedly also tried to secure him better prison conditions, asking for more comfortable pillows, The Sunday Times reported.

The new Labour MP denies the characterisation of the meeting with Sir Robert and that she asked for improved jail conditions.

A spokesman for Ms Elphicke told the newspaper: “This is nonsense. It’s certainly true that Mr Elphicke continued to be supported after his imprisonment by a large number of Conservative MPs who had known him for a long time, including some who visited him and independently lobbied on his behalf, which was nothing to do with Natalie.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Natalie Elphicke totally rejects that characterisation of the meeting.

“If Robert Buckland had any genuine concerns about the meeting, then he should have raised them at the time, rather than making claims to the newspapers now Natalie has chosen to join the Labour Party.”

However, asked on Monday whether there should be an investigation into the claims about the meeting, health minister Maria Caulfield told Times Radio: “I think if Robert Buckland, and I don’t know the details of what he said, has said (that), then I think there probably should be.”

She added that it was “up to the Labour Party” to investigate the claims.

Asked why Sir Robert had not raised concerns before Ms Elphicke had defected to Labour, she said: “I don’t know the details of that meeting, you would have to ask Robert Buckland about that, but this is now something that the Labour Party would have to investigate.

“They’ve been busy playing political games about who sits on which benches. We’ve been busy getting on with running the country.”

Meanwhile, a shadow minister said Sir Robert’s decision to allegedly “sit on” claims about Ms Elphicke should be “looked into”.

Asked whether the former Justice Secretary’s claims that Ms Elphicke lobbied ministers over her then-husband’s sexual assault case should be investigated, Catherine McKinnell said: “So I’m as baffled as anybody else by these assertions.

“Obviously Natalie says they are not true, it’s not her recollection of the meeting and so, she says it’s nonsense.”

“I just can’t quite understand why, if something is this important and as serious as he is alleging, why it wasn’t addressed at the time.

“That’s very concerning to me, I think that’s something that probably does need to be looked into.”

Following news of Ms Elphicke’s defection this week, Sir Keir has been hit with a furious response from some Labour MPs about the decision to admit her to the party, citing her comments about Mr Elphicke’s case and his victims, as well as her views on immigration.

She subsequently apologised last week about her previous comments on Mr Elphicke’s victims.