UK general election: Sunak and Starmer meet in first TV debate

Migration and the Israel-Gaza war on agenda as party leaders start series of hustings on June 4

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak will also try to close the door on new Reform leader Nigel Farage during the TV debate. Getty Images
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and opposition leader Keir Starmer met on Tuesday in the first televised debate of the UK general election campaign.

Before the debate, Mr Sunak pledged to introduce an annual visa cap on migrants, while Mr Starmer promised to end Russia's ability to influence British energy prices with a home-grown investment company.

The Conservative and Labour party leaders were questioned in front of an audience on matters including foreign policies on issues such as Gaza, and domestic issues including the economy, migration and green ambitions.

Meanwhile, new Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, who launched his campaign in Clacton, south-east England, after he announced not only would he be standing as a candidate in the Essex constituency, but he is taking over as leader of the party.

Mr Farage said the election needed a bit of “gingering up”, as he described it as “the dullest, most boring election campaign we have ever seen in our lives”.

Addressing hundreds of supporters at a rally in Clacton-on-Sea on Tuesday before a milkshake was thrown at him, Mr Farage said the Tories should "pay a big price" for betraying the promises of Brexit.

"We made an offer to the British people, we could get back our independence and control of our borders.

"But what has happened? The Conservatives have betrayed that trust. They've opened up the borders to mass immigration like we've never seen before.

"And they deserve to pay a price for that, a big price for that."

In the remaining month of campaigning, there will be debates involving leadership from the major parties.

“Millions of viewers value the election debates,” said Michael Jermey, ITV's director of news and current affairs.

“They provide a chance to see and hear the party leaders set out their pitch to the country, debate directly with each other and take questions from voters.

“ITV is pleased to be broadcasting the first debate in this year's election campaign.”

The hour-long programme Sunak v Starmer: The ITV Debate starts at 9pm and will be moderated by Julie Etchingham.


During the debate Mr Sunak defended his party's proposed plan to deport migrants to Rwanda.

He criticised Mr Starmer for not supporting the law, which had been pushed through Parliament and the courts over the p;ast couple of years.

Mr Starmer said he would "smash" the gangs that run the "people-smuggling trade".

More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel and immigration has become a campaign battleground.

The Tories have also proposed an annual cap on worker and family visas in efforts to ensure annual immigration figures fall.

Mr Sunak said: “We have taken bold action to cut the number of people coming to this country. The plan is working but migration levels are still too high, so we are going further.

“Labour's migrant amnesty will make the UK a global magnet for illegal immigrants and they have no plan to reduce net migration, while we have a clear plan to stop the boats and put a legal cap on numbers.

“The Conservatives are the only party that is willing take the bold action needed to cut immigration figures.”

The annual cap would be imposed on the number of visas that can be granted to those coming to the UK for work or with family.

Temporary work routes, such as seasonal agriculture, would not fall within the cap.

UK general election campaigning – in pictures


The leaders were also asked about the UK's position on the world stage, including their influence around crises such as the war in Gaza.

Mr Starmer said he believed that both Labour and the Tories were committed to peace. He said: "I am absolutely committed to peace... but for peace you have to be prepared to fight."

Mr Sunak said he supported the US ceasefire deal.

On Monday, Oscar-winning Riz Ahmed was among 100 artists and celebrities in Britain to urge Mr Starmer to stop arms sales to Israel if Labour wins the election.

The Conservatives have so far resisted pressure to stop licences to supply weapons amid concerns that Israel could be in breach of international humanitarian law as the conflict in Gaza continues.


Meanwhile, three nationwide opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, with leads of between 17 per cent and 26 per cent for the Labour party.

An average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 4 puts Labour on 45 per cent, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 24 per cent, followed by Reform UK on 12 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent and the Greens on 5 per cent.

More TV debates: Dates, times and channels

On June 7, Mishal Husain will host a BBC debate between leading figures from the Conservative Party, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and Reform UK.

The audience and members of the public will have the chance to ask questions during the debate in London.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner will represent Labour in the BBC's seven-party debate on Friday from 7.30pm to 9pm. Commons leader Penny Mordaunt will represent the Tories.

On June 13, ITV will broadcast a similar 90-minute Election Debate 2024 for the same seven parties, from 8.30pm.

On June 20, a BBC Question Time Leaders' Special is being held in York. Fiona Bruce will present the show involving leaders of the four biggest political parties, broadcast from 8pm.

The last scheduled debate, on June 26, is a final head-to-head between Mr Sunak and Mr Starmer being held in Nottingham. The BBC’s Sophie Raworth will host the event to be broadcast between 9pm and 10pm.

“TV debates have become a key part of elections in the UK, giving voters the chance to hear leaders and senior politicians debate policies and ideas directly with each other, which rarely happens on the campaign trail,” said BBC News deputy chief executive Jonathan Munro.

Further events may be arranged.

Updated: June 04, 2024, 10:07 PM