PMQs scorecard: Starmer blasts Sunak over definition of a woman jibe

Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from the latest session in POLITICO’s weekly run-through.

What they sparred about: Labour boss Keir Starmer started things off on a fairly typical note — with a low-energy gag at Rishi Sunak’s expense about his newfound love of betting, and his failure to close NHS waiting lists. But an ill-judged jibe from the PM in response saw proceedings turn sour.

Is this the time? Sunak launched into an attack on Starmer for an apparent U-turn on his definition of a woman — a common culture war turn from the PM aimed at Starmer’s position that the “very small number” of people who identify as a different gender from the one they were born with should be respected. Moments before, Starmer had acknowledged the “unwavering bravery” of Esther Ghey, who was watching on from the public gallery in the Commons.

The context: Ghey is the mother of Brianna Ghey, a transgender 16-year-old who was murdered in a pre-meditated attack linked to hate against transgender people. Her killers were sentenced to life imprisonment last week.

Turning up the volume: A genuinely incensed Starmer reacted with fury to the jibe. “Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this chamber. Shame. Parading as a man of integrity when he’s got absolutely no responsibility,” the Labour leader said, temporarily silencing much of the Tory benches.

From there on in: Little of note happened in the exchanges between the two leaders after that — but Sunak’s pre-scripted jab and Starmer’s off-the-cuff angry response provided one of the most memorable parliamentary flashpoints of recent months.

Later on: Offered the chance to apologize to Ghey’s mother by the Labour MP Liz Twist, Sunak declined to do so or even address her offer. But speaking right at the end of proceedings — possibly after a nudge from a helpful MP — Sunak addressed Ghey’s mother, praising her for the “compassion and empathy” she has demonstrated since the sentencing. An apology still wasn’t forthcoming.

Light relief: Former short-lived Tory leadership candidate John Baron stood up and said the U.K. economy is doing well “despite the popular narrative” and that the opposition should know this. Thanks for that, John.

Totally non-scientific scores on the doors: It was a grim affair. Sunak 2/10 … Starmer 8/10.