Jeremy Corbyn ambushed Theresa May at prime minister’s questions today with leaked texts that he said showed the government had struck a special secret “sweetheart deal” with Surrey County Council to pay for social care.
Yesterday the Conservative-run council unexpectedly abandoned plans to hold a local referendum on raising council tax by 15% to pay for a shortfall in funding. The council has instead approved a rise of just below 5%.
Corbyn today revealed he had been leaked text messages between Surrey Council leader David Hodge and a man named “Nick”.
In the messages, Hodge suggests Sajid Javid’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) had agreed to financial help to avoid the referendum in the south England county.
The Tory council leader mistakenly believed he was messaging a DCLG official who works for Javid.
Corbyn asked May: “How much did the government offer Surrey to kill this off? And is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by her government?”
Downing Street has denied Surrey received “extra money”.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, shouted “rumbled” at the prime minister across the Commons.
Corbyn asked whether a secret deal had been done as both Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt represent Surrey constituencies.
May, who had been caught off guard, avoided answering directly and told Corbyn “the last thing social care providers need is another one of Labour’s bouncing cheques”.
The prime minister also channelled Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous catchphrase used to defend White House statements that are not true.
“What we get from Labour is alternative facts. What they really need is an alternative leader,” May said
Following PMQs, May’s spokesman said: “I am not going to comment on leaked texts, but I can assure you there is no sweetheart deal.
“There is dialogue between DCLG and all councils. It happens on an annual basis, but there is no deal.”
Another Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The suggestion that there was extra money offered to call off the referendum is not the case. There is no extra money for Surrey next year.”
She added that Nick King, the special adviser to Javid, had not received the texts. “They did not go to Nick King. They were not read by him.”
Hodge has insisted that the decision to scrap a 15% council tax rise “was ours alone and there has been no deal” with the government.